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September 3, 2012

Social media sparks controversy among athletes

Logan Tuley-Tillman knows how to spark a controversy.

When the four-star offensive tackle from Peoria (Ill.) Manual committed to Michigan and then set ablaze an Ohio State recruiting letter and put a picture of the lit envelope on Twitter, Buckeyes fans responded harshly.

Vile things were said. The response from Ohio State fans was not pleasant.

Tuley-Tillman does not seem to care all that much and Michigan supporters quickly jumped to his defense, but it was yet another sign of how football recruiting mixed with social media can be a dangerous cocktail.

"It was really just angry fans telling me how much I sucked and how we're going to lose to their team and how I should have picked them," Tuley-Tillman said. "It was a little shocking. I couldn't understand how a 17-year-old's decision could change the dynamic of a grownup's day. I guess they take it to heart.

"It's really something big to them and it infuriates the fan bases. I don't really understand where they get off having the audacity to get angry with someone who made a decision for their future."

Anyone who has been to an Ohio State game knows that passion flows, so setting a letter on fire and then putting it on public display, on a forum where Buckeyes' fans don't need to say something to your face but can play computer tough guy, things will not turn out well.

Tuley-Tillman had to know there would be repercussions. He's still a kid but cannot be that nave.

The four-star understands the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry and knows the Buckeyes are coming off a bad season, with a new high-profile coach. He knows his future coach, Michigan's Brady Hoke, goads Ohio State fans every time he calls them Ohio and leaves off the "State."

Everyone with a pulse knows that burning a letter is asking for it. In fact, it's asking for it bad. Tuley-Tillman sure got it on social media.

"It was mostly Twitter," Tuley-Tillman said. "Sometimes when you look through your mentions, you don't know if it's someone you know or not. Most of them were on there and it got pretty bad.

"The one fan put up money for someone who takes out my knee. That was pretty funny. He ended up being the son of a federal judge too, so I guess he got in some trouble for it."

Even with the public backlash, Tuley-Tillman said he would do it again. According to reports, the 6-foot-7, 307-pound prospect even received death threats. Really, though, who was going to attack him, King Kong Bundy?

Still, threats to anyone is scary and something to take seriously. It's something unwarranted for a teenager who did something rash and uncalled for.

"I don't regret it at all," Tuley-Tillman said. "It's just something that happened and where I stand with Michigan."

Players get excited, which is understandable. High school kids are immature. Also not outside the realm of believability. Tuley-Tillman might look back in a few years and regret doing something so inflammatory.

Was there any reason to desecrate a letter from Michigan's biggest rival? Wouldn't it suffice to either throw it away or put it with the rest of the letters in a shoebox to one day show your children?

On the other side, is it really necessary for Ohio State fans -- or fans from any school for that matter -- to threaten teenagers on Twitter? Is that what fandom has become? Is that the level of discourse we've sunken to?

If recent recruiting controversies are any indication, there is a fringe element of college football fans who answer those questions with a resounding, "Yes, it is necessary."

Tuley-Tillman is far from the first recruit to be harassed on social media and many of the former prospects did nothing to compare with his antics.

USC commit Jalen Ramsey, from Nashville (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy, declined to be interviewed for this story so he would not offend any in-state fans who wanted to see him stay closer to home.

That might have been the wisest move so he did not have his Twitter feed littered with vulgar comments.

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell remembers the recruitments of Kyle Kalis, Cyrus Kouandjio and T.J. Yeldon all got nasty in recent years when they flipped their commitments or decided on a school that fans of certain schools on social media did not like.

The prank call has turned into the Twitter and Facebook bash. Except back in the day, not everyone had your phone number. Getting Twitter handles is not all that difficult.

"I remember seeing a lot of messages on the Facebook pages of those recruits and fans getting involved in the hatred," Farrell said. "This year, when Reuben Foster flipped from Alabama to Auburn, it got ugly as well."

Some fans might even be damaging their own school. Whether it was a publicity stunt or legitimate feelings, Shaq Thompson posted on Twitter from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that he was seriously considering USC. After some fans questioned him on the social media site, Thompson said the Trojans were out and the disbelief was the reason.

Fans are to blame for badgering these kids on Twitter and Facebook, but there are also instances where the player gets too involved, too heated or says something so irresponsible that colleges even take steps to distance themselves.

Yuri Wright is an example from the last recruiting class. The former Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep four-star recruit and Colorado signee said such outrageous and profane things on Twitter that Michigan dropped his scholarship.

Farrell said he thinks Wright is an extreme example, but many other prospects have not learned their lesson yet.

"One thing I've noticed is a lot of kids embarrassing themselves on Twitter and Facebook," Farrell said.

"Maybe not to the extent of Yuri Wright last year when Michigan pulled his offer, but childish things that make you wonder about a player's maturity and character. The fans need to understand they are dealing with kids here who are doing their best to make a tough decision and the players need to understand that everyone can see stupid things you post or tweet.

"It's only going to get worse and I think more and more high school programs will force kids off Twitter to be part of the football team. Facebook is a different animal. I don't see how they can stop them from being on there, but things will get more and more interesting and embarrassing for both fans and players alike."

One way around that is for prospects to do their talking elsewhere. Like where it counts, not behind a computer screen.

"My response is going to be on the field and how I play," Tuley-Tillman said.

As has been the case before, other recruits are sure to take a different course. Opposing fans will be waiting.



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