The internet can be a pretty cool place sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I daily regret my almost compulsive use of Twitter and Facebook. I’ve had plenty of conversations with my friends and family about how I should be on my phone less often. I’ve taken weekend breaks from social media and felt like a brand new person. There’s a serious psychological — and probably physical — benefit from being away from the internet.
But I don’t want to discount how fun and genuinely uplifting it can be at the same time. Personally, I’m a big Twitter guy. I love interacting with all the different subgroups I’ve found myself in, and there’s something awesome about engaging with people I’ve never met.
Hell, I haven’t met many of the other writers on this site. And there’s a good chance I’ll probably never meet you, the reader. Yet here I am, writing on this site, and here you are, reading.
Sports, already a great conductor for community, make up a majority of my time spent online. Whether it’s trolling fans of other teams or ripping my catastrophically mediocre baseball team, I find it fun to engage in one of my favorite pastimes among a community of geographically scattered people, all brought together by the technology that will most likely become SkyNet one day.
However, something bothers me about sporting corners of the internet, specifically those who follow recruiting in college athletics.
For Mizzou fans, it’s been about as good a week as we could’ve hoped. The momentum of basketball’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes has died down for the most part, and we’re less than two months away from the start of college football games.
Football hasn’t been the happiest topic over the last two years. Mizzou went from back-to-back SEC East champions to stuck in the middle of no-man’s-land with a new coach, a lot of unproven talent, and a whole lot of apathetic fans.
But things have been different this week. For the first time in a while — at least since second half of the Arkansas game — it feels like there’s some tangible momentum.
Starting with the annual Night at the Zou, Barry Odom has been able to tack on nine recruits in seven days. The impact of recent commit Daniel Parker’s location can’t be understated given the paranoia about in-state recruiting that has grown this offseason. Parker’s commitment Thursday is a much-needed win, and Mizzou fans everywhere, especially online, rightfully rejoiced.
But there’s an underlying ugliness to this whole process that gets lost once the recruit sends his “Committed” tweet. Once the recruiting edits go out and the assistant coaches are all tweeting vague celebratory gifts, I feel like we’re all forgetting something. There’s something kind of ... off going on, too.
Missouri is home to 10 highly-rated football recruits this year that are all getting national attention. Earlier this offseason, Barry Odom and the staff had them all come to Columbia for a pull-out-all-the-stops recruiting day. We’re talking swag, meeting Mizzou big-wigs, a giant picture with all their names and faces. You know, the works.
The whole point was to convince these kids to stay home and play for the in-state school. Suffice it to say, the Tiger 10 day was important and a lot of people were encouraged to see the staff making such a big effort to get all these guys. And at first, it seemed to have worked.
But time passed, and the Tiger 10 started going their own ways. A few made surprise commitments to former rivals. Some seemingly began to lose interest in the home school altogether.
In message boards and on Twitter, you began to see not-irregular comments about the Tiger 10, things like, “Can’t believe all the attention these kids want. They think it’s all about them” or “These guys seem like drama queens. Give me a guy who’s humble”.
I’ll admit, I’ve often taken a “Well, if they don’t want to come to Mizzou, I don’t want them anyway,” attitude, especially about athletes who tend to drag out the recruiting process or milk it for all its worth. And I know what lies on the other side of those recruiting stories. Some schools get the guy they’ve been wanting for months. And some schools get trolled on national television.
But there’s something weird about getting so upset and so invested in these recruiting stories. Underneath all the different things we say, we actually mean something else. Something that moves past football and fandom.
“Can’t believe all the attention these kids want. They think it’s all about them,” really means, “I’m upset that a kid who will probably never get this stage in his life ever again might want to bask in it for a little bit. If I were up there, I’d never be that arrogant.”
“These guys seem like drama queens,” also means, “I put these kids on pedestals, but only if they play it completely straightforward and never change their minds.”
And, “We don't want you anyway,” is really just, “I don’t really care about your well-being and rooting for your success. I just care about the team I like.”
This all combines to make this toxic soup of expectations we thrust on high school recruits: they have to be good, but not so much that they’re too good for my school; we want them to be adults, but not if it means they go somewhere else because they think it’s a better opportunity; and we want kids to be loyal... as long as they’re high three-star or four-star recruits.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m making this a bigger deal than it actually is. It doesn’t seem to affect recruiting all that much. I saw comments like the ones above specifically directed at Daniel Parker Jr. over the past few months, and he still chose the team I liked.
But the way we treat these kids — in public, in private, on Twitter, on message boards — can be a little less than human sometimes. We put them on huge stages, yet infantilize them if they don’t live up to our whims.
There are bigger things to life than football and that four-star recruit who would bump my team’s class up a few spots. And if or when he ends up not choosing my school, I don’t want to be the guy who thinks any less of him as a human being for it. Even if I only express these feelings in private.