Commentary

Social media has ugly side, too

Recruits are OK with attention, at least until it turns into nastiness

Updated: January 27, 2012, 1:16 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Mike Davis didn't face Kyle Williams-level venom after decommitting from Florida last month, but the running back prospect can no doubt empathize with Williams' plight concerning the down side of social media.

Some San Francisco 49ers fans took to Twitter on Sunday and openly wished death on Williams, whose two fumbled punts contributed to the team's overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

Davis was the subject of similar sentiment from perspective-challenged social media users in early December, when he announced he would not sign with Florida after verbally committing to the Gators nearly a year earlier.

There is a small minority in each fan base that if a kid does not go to your school then he is bad.

-- Paul Theus, father of
UGA commit John Theus

"Some of them would call me cuss words, some called me the B-word, tell me, 'You ain't nothing,'" Davis said. "They'd say they're glad I'm not going to Florida and some would say they hope I get injured and that I'm not going to play and I'm going to sit and then transfer and I'm a head case. All that type of stuff."

Davis (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) -- rated the nation's No. 6 running back and the No. 62 overall prospect on the ESPNU 150 -- reopened his recruitment and visited a handful of schools, including Georgia, before announcing two weeks ago that he had committed to South Carolina.

With national signing day less than a week away, Davis is happy to have settled on a school and is glad he reconsidered his decision -- even if that meant he subjected himself to virtual hate mail.

"It was a crazy month-and-a-half for me. I'm just glad that it's over," Davis said. "I'd say it was a rough time and it was crazy, but then again, I don't regret it."

Davis is one example of a high school athlete who became an easy target because of the high profile provided by the football recruiting machine. Athletes who use social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are regularly exposed to the fickle nature of sports fan bases.

"We always use the message boards and social media to keep up with recruiting, and there are pros and cons to it," said Paul Theus, whose son John is one of Georgia's top commitments of the 2012 recruiting class. "There is a small minority in each fan base that if a kid does not go to your school then he is bad. But we do not pay attention to that stuff. I think this is true for every recruit, but once you decide where you are going and commit, then you are treated very well."

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comMike Davis, who decommitted from UF in December, says he has endured some "crazy" remarks and nasty outbursts from fans the past few months, but he has no regrets.
One response is to just avoid social media altogether. That's the route Georgia freshman offensive lineman David Andrews recently took.

"At the start of the new year, I dropped Facebook and Twitter," Andrews said. "It just seemed like everyone was getting in trouble for things they said or a picture or something. I thought it was cool that you had all the Georgia fans. It seemed like the majority of my followers or Facebook friends were Georgia fans, which is awesome for the backing, but it just seems like everyone's tied down to it. I just thought, 'Why not?'"

Such a move takes willpower that many social media users do not possess.

Social media use is one of the world's most widespread forms of communication -- Facebook claims more than 800 million active users; Twitter, 300 million.

That means users who live in the spotlight are sometimes subject to hateful communication from strangers -- even when the "celebrity" is just a teenage boy who is accepting a college football program's scholarship offer.

Even if they don't delete the accounts altogether, Davis can attest that sometimes it's best for athletes simply to stay off their computers and away from the social media applications on their cellphones.

"I never thought about deleting [Twitter]," Davis said. "I would just sit there and read it and there was a point in time where it got to where I just stopped reading it. I really was expecting it, but some of the stuff, I was just like, 'OK, this is outrageous.'"

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.