Athletes: Don't Feed the Trolls
I can't believe I have to say this in this day and age, but to all you famous athletes out there: Don't feed the trolls.
On Friday, Robert Griffin III wrote a lengthy reply on his verified Facebook page, responding to criticism by fans weary of the news media attention given to the Washington Redskins quarterback, who in his second year has been criticized for being more image than substance.
"You think I want it to be national news that I visit a beach? Or shop at Walmart? Or wore red shoes instead if green yesterday? Well I don't," he wrote, adding that the exposure is just par for the course for a quarterback in the National Football League. He also defended his wearing a sleeve and addressed the various commercials in which he appears, noting that many of these endorsements are mandated in players' contracts.
Everything he wrote was justified, and unlike many athletes before him, coherent and even-tempered. But as we've seen in the past few days, RGIII's response opened himself up to further reaction by sportswriters (like this one) offering their views on the subject. In choosing to address his critics, Griffin gave undue legitimacy to trivial issues -- seriously, who cares if he wears a sleeve? -- and left the door open for further discussion.
Matt Harvey fell into a similar trap yesterday, responding to a New York Yankees fan in what turned into an unnecessary Twitter battle. The New York Mets pitcher, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery, sent an innocuous tweet about being on vacation, which prompted the fan to condemn the young player for … well, something. Equally unsure of what he did wrong, Harvey responded that he was "just enjoying life" and "didn't know that was a problem," which prompted accusations about his lack of humility, and the two went back and forth for a couple of hours.
While Griffin was responding to criticism by both NFL fans and sportswriters, Harvey's was clearly a case of pure trolling. The Yankees fan attacked him with incoherent e-babbling about character and ego for the sole purpose of eliciting a reaction. He succeeded, and though Harvey, like Griffin, was perfectly justified in his response, it was completely fruitless and serves to embolden future fans seeking attention from sports stars who actually have something to lose by engaging in petty fights on social media.
People in the spotlight need to have a thick skin, but even if you're particularly sensitive to what people think, act like you're not. At the end of the day, nobody who matters cares about the commercials you shoot or the islands you visit as long as you're doing your job on the field. When it comes to this kind of inane disapproval or gossip, it's better to take a page out of the Derek Jeter playbook: Just ignore it, keep playing and continue dating supermodels.