Huddle Up: Technology takes sports schadenfreude to new, disturbing levels

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Last Wednesday night, Miami upset top-ranked Duke. Eviscerated might be a better word, actually. The Hurricanes led by 23 at the half and ended up winning by 27.

When the final buzzer sounded, Miami fans stormed the court and thousands of Duke haters stormed the World Wide Web to share their glee.

Still marinating in the euphoria of another upset loss to North Carolina State just 11 days earlier, Duke’s demonizers traded tweets like high-fives. So much LOL-ing at Mike Krzyzewski’s expense was going on that one could only assume Google’s traffic increased by 10 percent with people looking up how to spell Krzyzewski

It’s also safe to assume that more than a few of the same  Twitter handles participating in the “Duke s%@#s” thread popped up in timelines celebrating the New England Patriots’ demise last Sunday. It is as if Twitter only exists to make schadenfreude a more communal experience.

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And boy, when it comes to Duke and the Patriots, do the haters love to congregate. The same goes for Notre Dame football, LeBron James, the New York Yankees and Lance Armstrong and the biggest lightning rods in sports.

Sports has always had its lightning rods, but, like a lot of things, social media is taking it to a whole new level.  

Of course, it starts with the fact that the news about those we love to hate travels faster now.  It can pass through so many filters and anonymous sources, so it’s also more readily distorted.

Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Well, in the viral age, a lie can circle the globe dozens of times before the truth’s alarm clock goes off.

Krzyzewski was the victim of an Internet hoax just hours after the loss to Miami. A rumor that the Duke coach made his players practice in the early-morning hours after they returned from Miami overtook Twitter on Thursday morning.

The rumor derived from a joke Dan Patrick made on his radio show Thursday, and Duke and Krzyzweski had to extinguish the wildfire quickly before the NCAA got involved, because nothing ever good comes out of NCAA involvement.

Immediacy and global connectivity add to the fun of being a fan. So does schadenfreude. Putting them all together is a blast, too. But the disturbing thing about the Duke rumor was that it continued to spread long after it had been refuted, mostly because people wanted to believe it was true. They wanted to believe Krzyzweski is that much of a tyrant and that hell-bent on being a taskmaster.

No doubt some still believe that it actually happened, just like some still believe the Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams’ practice before the Super Bowl. If you repeat a big lie enough, people will believe it. A lot of big lies get told about lightning rods, and its definitely easy to repeat and retweet them.

Once built up and torn down by newspapers, magazines and television, legends are now being created and spread on the Internet. The faceless crowds that could only heckle their villains for a few hours in the stadium or arena can now insult them from their keyboard or phone at any time. The legends and the villains can use the same technology to tell their side, too, but if I were a famous athlete or coach, I wouldn’t find  that very comforting.

For that matter, I don’t find it particularly comforting as a fan.

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