COMERFORD: Life is more than just sports

Steve+Wojciechowski+coaches+on+the+sidelines++Jan.+21%2C+2020.+Marquette+Wire+stock+photo+

Steve Wojciechowski coaches on the sidelines Jan. 21, 2020. Marquette Wire stock photo

The Steve Wojciechowski era concluded March 19. For many Marquette fans, this marked the end of seven long years without an NCAA Tournament win.

Though the stats may back up a rightful fire, that does not mean people need to be harsh about it on social media. Think about it: Someone who has a family just lost their job. What if it happened to you or your family?

Following the announcement, former men’s basketball coach Wojciechowski posted statement addressed to the Marquette community on Instagram.

“I wanted to take a moment to express the deepest gratitude on behalf of my wife Lindsay and sons Jack and Charlie for our seven wonderful years at Marquette University,” Wojciechowski wrote. “Days like today are unfortunately part of this profession but I leave Marquette proud of what we achieved and with a lifetime of unforgettable memories.”

He continued to say Marquette’s fanbase is passionate and that he wants everyone to know, whether they cheered him or booed him, that he respects their passion. His last line, “I wish the entire Marquette community nothing but the best, and thank you from the bottom of my heart. All the best, Wojo,” was one of class and grace, a sentiment some fans still don’t show him.

Some commented on his Instagram statements like “Proud of a losing record? Hmm” and “Proud of what we achieved? What was that? Finishing in the bottom half of the conference or missing/losing NCAA tournament games?” and “Bye bye.”

Other fans even tweeted things like “This is legitimately the happiest I’ve felt about #MUBB in months…maybe years” and “This makes me so happy!” and “BOUT D—N TIME.” 

One person even commented on Marquette Basketball’s Facebook post, “Thanks for setting our program back 7 years. Bye.”

If we are really following our Jesuit mission of “cura personalis,” we would not be cheering on social media when a member of the Marquette community loses their job. Though fans may not agree with how he coached his teams, he has a family and people who care about him. He is human. Sports is only a game, and I’m tired of people treating it like it’s the end of the world if their basketball team loses.

This trend of fans wanting Marquette to fire Wojciechowski isn’t new, though. There is a hashtag that has been going around for the past few years, #firewojo, and some have even gone further to help create, in December 2020, an account called @FireWojoMU.

After the now-NBA star Ja Morant and the Murray State Racers upset the then-No. 5 Golden Eagles March 21, 2019 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Marquette fans were livid. Tons of fans tagged Wojciechowski on Twitter, and the idea of firing Wojo began circling among the fan base. That’s the same time he deleted his Twitter account.

That’s not all. The hate toward Wojciechowski has permeated into the student section at Fiserv Forum. During games in 2020-21, Marquette’s PA announcer Mike Jakubowski had to race through Wojciechowski’s pregame introduction as the booing for the program’s head coach was louder than for the other team’s introduction. The university even added a pregame introduction to the student section as the best sixth man in the country, which was placed directly after Wojciechowski’s name was announced.

However, social media harassment of collegiate athletes and coaches isn’t just an issue within the Marquette community. Following Ohio State University’s upset to the No. 15 seed Oral Roberts University March 19, the Buckeyes’ sophomore forward and rebound leader E.J. Liddell was victim to social media harassment — even to the extreme of death threats.

Even though he had a team-high 23 points and contributed 14 rebounds in OSU’s 75-72 loss, people still felt they needed to add to his already sad night by sending him cruel messages. To put it in perspective, while Liddell shot 10-for-15 on the night, the remainder of the team went 19-for-52 from the field.

He posted screenshots to Twitter March 19 of Instagram direct messages that included hateful and vulgar messages with the caption “Honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I’m human.” The tweet received tons of attention and amassed over 12,000 quote tweets, 16,200 comments, 17,200 retweets and 223,100 likes as of March 22.

One of those many hurtful messages stated: “Piece of s–t. You managed to do it again. You were shooting a 1 and 1 to win the game lol. You are such a f—–g disgrace. Don’t ever show your face at Ohio State. We hate you. I hope you die I really do.”

Liddell commented in a tweet thread that he had never done anything to anyone to deserve this.

“Comments don’t get to me but I just wanna know why,” Liddell said.

He then had to clarify that he did not want to come off as attacking Ohio State fans.

“I love you all dearly and I’ve felt nothing but appreciated since the first day I stepped on campus,” Liddell said.

He shouldn’t have had to make the final statement because some people were offended. He’s the original victim. He was the one who was attacked with racial slurs and death threats.

Both CNN and ESPN reported that the Buckeyes’ athletic director Gene Smith promised fans that authorities would get involved if people continued to threaten players because “hate and derision have no place in Buckeye Nation or in civil society.”

Even two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley has weighed in on the OSU situation, stating he will be staying away from social media for the foreseeable future.

“I am never gonna be able to dignify these losers and interact with them ever. I don’t care how much money somebody offers me, I’m never going to do social media because of this,” Barkley said to fellow Inside March Madness panelists Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Andy Katz prior to games March 20.

In a media Zoom call with athletic director Bill Scholl March 19, he said Wojciechowski was a phenomenal person with great character who coached “the right way.”

“It’s really hard,” Scholl said. “His family are an incredible family. They bought into Marquette and they loved being at Marquette. That piece is hard. In some ways you kind of feel like a member of our Marquette community has gone away. I hope I’m not the only one who feels that way. Steve did a lot for our community. That piece is painful and hard.”

There’s too much hate in the real world for there to be even more animosity online. Social media harassment in college athletics needs to stop because athletes and coaches are humans with families, just like the rest of us. Put yourself in their shoes and be more compassionate because, at the end of the day, basketball is just a game.

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford