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Column: Don’t let ‘sports-hate’ lead to a prison sentence

Don’t be a Daniel Rippy.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, a man named Daniel Rippy pleaded guilty to threatening to injure and even kill Ohio State students, athletes, and former head football coach Urban Meyer during the 2018 Ohio State and Michigan football game; which the Buckeyes won 62-39. His multiple threats were made on Facebook and directed at various official OSU accounts.

According to the AP, the Livermore, Cali. resident wrote in one comment, “I’m seriously going to hurt the students and all of the players from the football team.”

An indictment unsealed last September stated that Rippy threatened “to injure or kill specific players, their family members and the head coach.”

After initially being released on bond following a December arrest, Rippy failed to meet pretrial conditions — regularly reporting to authorities and living at an approved halfway house — and was rearrested in January and transported to Ohio where he has remained in custody since. According to the terms of his plea agreement, Rippy faces up to five years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine. His sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

As we wind down SB Nation’s Rivalry Week, I want to use Rippy’s situation as a cautionary tale. Trust me, I know the instinct to puff your chest and get mouthy online can be very strong during games, especially against your team’s rival, but don’t be that guy.

The specifics of Rippy’s Facebook posts and if there was any actual planning for him to attempt to carry out his threats have not been made public, but existing in these social media streets as we all do, I can imagine a world in which a fan gets #MadOnline while their team is getting obliterated by their rival for the umpteenth time, and they pop off and say something stupid, and it takes on a life of its own.

Now, I’m not excusing Rippy or anyone who does that (and this doesn’t even really apply to his case, since he directed his comments at OSU accounts), but I can see something that was intended to be innocuous turning into something that was anything but. What one thinks is a mostly harmless, benign expression of anger and frustration screamed into the vacuumous void that is social media, can easily be taken by people not hampered by the blinders of sports-rage as a real and credible threat when extrapolated from the void and into the real world. With the insane number of mass shootings, especially at schools and on college campuses, that extrapolation is clearly the only prudent way to handle these situations.

In the past, I’ve written about the concept of “sports-hate”, and how it differs from real world hate, and the perspective that is needed to understand the difference between the two. I am 100 percent on board for all of the traditions, humor, snark, bickering, and everything else that is involved in sports-hate; that’s all done for fun, that’s part of what makes being a fan so enjoyable. Have you seen the Land-Grant Twitter feed (@LandGrant33)? Clearly, I love to mix it up with Michigan Men and other trolls that routinely pop up in our mentions.

But when you allow that performative, predominantly good-natured banter to morph into real-life prejudice, you’ve lost the plot. Despite the stereotypes that we all traffic in when it comes to opposing fanbases, there is very little that really separates us from each other, especially those that we consider rivals. Many — if not most — of us are Ohio State fans because of the fortune of our birth; we grew up in Ohio or were raised by Ohio State fans.

Of course, the converse to this is true as well. If your parents had moved to the state up north, as opposed to the great state of Ohio, you very well might have become a Michigan fan, but otherwise, you’d still be you.

When we start to only conceptualize rivals (be they fans, players, coaches, etc.) as an amorphous group of non-human others that exists solely to antagonize us, we often throw out the most basic tenants of acceptable human interaction. While I am totally on board with getting a little mouthy on Twitter at times, when we allow it to progress from just part of the normal fun of sports fandom into something that is closer to actual real-world hatred, we need to take a step back and reexamine.

Our nation and world are currently dealing with an absurd number of legitimate threats — both tangible and existential — and as sports slowly return following pandemic shutdowns, I implore you not to let the magnitude of those IRL threats cloud your appreciation of watching sports.

Throughout the history of our country, we have turned to sports as a distraction during the toughest of times. But it would be dangerous and destructive to allow the fear, anger, and sadness that already permeates our daily existences to overwhelm the joy that sports are meant to provide.

So, when a Buckeye defender is ejected on a ludicrous targeting call, or a TTUN troll is badgering you on Twitter, or an opposing defensive end takes a cheap shot on Justin Fields, remember that the anger that you feel is perfectly acceptable in the context of sports, but when you feel it bleeding beyond the borders of fandom and becoming something that you can’t defend to your non-sports fan friends, it’s probably best to put your phone in a drawer, take a deep breath, and return to enjoying the action as a much-needed distraction from the literally and figuratively burning world that awaits when the game is over.