A 22-year-old University of Michigan football player is persona non gratis with fans after a game against Michigan State University, reported WBNS-10TV on Oct. 19. Michigan punter Blake O’Neill got death threats when his fumble lost UM the game to MSU. #12 O’Neill’s football flub was made so much more painful by the fact that it happened in the last seconds of the game against arch nemesis MSU, when Michigan was assured of victory. But fans are getting their own dress down: supporters say fans, not Blake O’Neill, are the ones who should be ashamed.
It was a tense football game to be sure. With just ten seconds on the clock, the Wolverines were just about to spoil the Spartans’ perfect season. The rivalry between the two schools is legendary which would have made this victory ever so much more sweet for Michigan. Fans were so confident of a win that some were actually leaving early. But then punter O’Neill fumbled, tossing the football right into MSU player Jalen Watts-Jackson’s waiting arms. MSU ran it 38 yards for a game-changing touchdown. That little slip-up put the Spartans ahead 27-23. And a change in colors, from blue and maize to green and white, was in order.
Everyone was shocked: players, fans, coaches, staff and announcers. But what was more horrifying than losing a game, was the backlash against the poor punter. Not content to scream abuse, fans vented their spleens on social media. Keyboard warriors, safe behind their screens, hurled every kind of vicious, vitriolic, spiteful invective at O’Neill. They tweeted death threats against the hapless Australian-born punter. As with all online hate storms, folks said things they’d never say face to face. It was an embarrassing day to be a Michigander.
But many more–probably parents who knew how they’d feel if it was their son–rallied to O’Neill’s defense. They reminded everyone that football is just a game and that people make mistakes. University of Michigan interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett put it best asking that the “community not lose this game twice by condoning thoughtless comments.” It wasn’t an entirely a happy day for MSU either. Jalen Watts-Jackson dislocated a hip running that touchdown. He’ll have surgery this week.