Justine Gubar, a producer with ESPN's enterprise and investigative unit, has spent almost two decades covering sports events and issues across the globe -- and has encountered plenty of bad fan behavior along the way. In her new book "Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan," which is out now, she explores that behavior: its roots, its spill-over to social media, and what, if anything, can be done about it.
This excerpt, from a chapter called "The Voice Of The Fan," describes what takes place after some investigative reporting Gubar did about the Ohio State football team resulted in heavy fan backlash -- including a deluge of messages on her phone and on social media, and her personal information being posted on the Internet. Three years later, Gubar returned to Columbus, Ohio, to do more reporting for her book and to attend the Ohio State spring football game with a friend. Note: some vulgar language ahead.
The day after the game, I went to work. Since messages from Facebook users are supposedly tied to actual identities, I did my best sleuthing and tracked down some of my own harassers from three-year-old Facebook messages. At the time, I knew it would be a mistake to respond, but I had grown curious about what motivated these fans.
It turned out that most of my harassers didn't actually live in town, which shows just how far the Ohio State fan base extends. After the game, I reached one fan on the phone who is now living in Miami. Sean Eilertson, who graduated from Ohio State in 2013, said he didn't really remember much about contacting me with a message entitled "honesty and integrity regarding your investigation." He bristled at my contention that his line, "I simply advise you to do what's right and if you don't, realize that Buckeye Nation will not show you mercy," felt vaguely threatening. He told me that he was just explaining the power of a large fan base and that "it is all in the fun of sports."
Two days later, it was time for a house call. My friend Scott, a photographer who lives north of Columbus, kindly agreed to come with me. As a local, he felt guilty about the way some fans had treated me. He even apologized to me on behalf of more civilized Ohioans.
We were in search of a fan whom we'll call "Tommy," a 2011 Ohio State grad still living near campus in Columbus. After knocking on the front door of where we thought he lived, a woman answered. I explained as best as I could the premise of my visit, and she said she'd get "Tommy" for us. As we waited outside, I whispered Tommy's Facebook message to Scott: "He's the guy who told me I was 'not even on the same level as a prostitute' and 'a disgrace to journalism.'" Since "Tommy" majored in journalism at Ohio State, he must know. I looked around. The paint was peeling on the gray porch, and it was dotted with dilapidated chairs, a snow shovel, and a cat carrier. A guy who looked to be in his 20s came to the door, wearing a backward baseball cap and sweatpants. "Hey, my name is Justine." I asked him, "Are you 'Tommy?'"
"What do you want?" he asked. I told him I just wanted to talk with him. He exploded, "You are a s--- journalist, you are a f---ing, f---ing you went out of your way to write a s--- piece on people who are innocent. We knew all about it. Get the f--- off my porch."
I tried for some sort of conversation, but he wouldn't have it. "Get the f--- off ... get the f-- off. You and the Outside the Lines people can go suck s---."
The next day, on the Internet, "Tommy" blogged about the visit and conceded that he probably hadn't handled it in the best way. He and others in the comment section of the blog expressed curiosity as to why I was there, but in his heart, I know he knows the truth: I had tried to tell him the reason for my visit, but he wouldn't listen. Funny how he was so forthcoming on Facebook and the blog with his opinion but fled from an in-person conversation. Was rational conversation just too much to ask? Maybe so.
Sports creates a stark dichotomy between winning and losing, good guy and bad guy. To "Tommy," I was wrong and he was right. In this black-and-white sports world, there's not a lot of room for gray. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said he wants fans to either love the Cowboys or hate them. "I understand the importance of having passion involved, and not apathy," Jones said in a television interview I produced.
"If we're not the most popular team, we're always the most hated team."
From "Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan," by Justine Gubar. Copyright (c) 2015 Rowman & Littlefield. Used by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.