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It’s pretty unfortunate that, year after year, we need to have conversations like this. But as social media continues to grow and allows fans to interact more and more, and follow the daily happenings of the people they admire or, in the case of college sports, hope to admire (in the “correct” jersey), it unfortunately needs to be said at least one more time: Please, don’t be an asshole to high school kids.

I mean, you really shouldn’t behave like a dick toward anyone, but since we’re less than 24 hours from National Signing Day, I think you know exactly the kind of person I’m addressing right now. It happens every year when recruits spurn one college in favor of another, and I don’t see any signs of it slowing down anytime soon.

I wrote last year about how recruiting season reveals the ugliness of the nature of fandom, and it pisses me off that I continually see the same kind of bullshit behavior from, presumably, adults – people who largely have actual, real-life responsibilities and, in many cases, families to take care of and enjoy – toward 17 and 18 year old kids making the biggest decision of their young lives.

It’s fun to follow college recruiting when you’re a fan of a particular school. Hell, the recruiting feature in the old EA Sports NCAA Football franchise was always my favorite part, to the point where I’d sometimes simulate my regular season just so I could get back on the trail quicker. But something I knew then, that I still know today: the kids you’re following and hoping sign with your team are actual kids with actual families and actual lives. They’re not video game characters or avatars devoid of all personality, hopes, and dreams.

These are kids who have trained their asses off for most of their lives to achieve those dreams, and when the moment comes and they finally decide where they’re going to spend the last few years before they, like you, become an adult and learn what things are like in the real world…they’re often met not with congratulations and well wishes, but with scorn and insults from people who should really know better.

Last weekend, I saw a recruit flip his pledge from Rutgers to Boston College. This was a kid who was a fairly low level recruit, maybe 2-stars or so, who had only been committed to Rutgers for a short while and who had always wanted to play for BC but had not yet received an offer. When the offer came, he jumped on it. And the reaction of the Rutgers fans was absolutely vile. A kid made a decision that will have absolutely zero impact on their lives, doing what he felt was best for him, and the immediate response was to attack him, tell him he’d never amount to anything on the field, they were glad to be rid of him, and so on, and so on.

I’m not just picking on Rutgers, either. Unfortunately, I saw something similar to this with a Syracuse “fan” yesterday, as well, after Stewart Reese surprised absolutely no one and chose Mississippi State and the allure of the SEC over heading north and playing for the Orange.

This so-called “fan” proceeded to rip the decision, declaring it was an awful mistake that he’d regret because, to paraphrase, when his career was over he’d get absolutely nowhere with a Mississippi State degree. Another “fan” jumped in and said, “Enjoy your McDonald’s degree.”

I was appalled, first by the statements, but then even more so by the original “fan’s” justification: because he roots for the team, he claimed it gave him the right to degrade a kid’s choice. In fact, he went so far as to say that insulting a kid’s choice to attend a school other than Syracuse makes him a bigger Syracuse fan than those who wish the kid well.

Needless to say, I was left speechless, particularly after calling him out only to have him call me a douche. Now, I may be an asshole for a lot of reasons, but if I’m considered a douche for having the audacity to say “Hey, don’t do that” when a grown man insults a high school kid’s decision about his own future, well, then I’m happy to embrace the title.

I’ve said all of this before, which sucks. It sucks that adults have so little to do with their own lives that they feel the need to go online and hurl anonymous insults at kids whose decisions will, ultimately, never impact them. I’ll leave you with some of the thoughts I wrote last year, which I feel are as true today as they were then:

  • These are high school kids. They are 17 and 18 year old kids making the biggest decision of their young lives, and doing what they think is best for their future. I always knew I wanted to attend Syracuse, but I applied to James Madison as well. Can you imagine if a bunch of James Madison supporters started sending me angry letters because I chose to attend Syracuse University instead?
  • Not only is this the biggest decision of their lives so far, but it’s also the biggest, proudest moment. These kids have put in countless hours in the gym, on the field, and in the weight room to earn the right to play college athletics. In my day job, I work with college athletes every day. Even though I work at a much lower level than Syracuse, these kids take their athletic careers very seriously, and every year around this time I see pictures of local high school kids in the sports section announcing where they’ll be playing in college. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to a community college or the University of Texas, every one of these kids is thrilled to get a chance to keep playing a sport they love, particularly if they’re fortunate enough to have earned a free education at the same time.
  • It can’t be stressed enough that at some point, putting so much energy and thought into whether a 17 year old kid decides to attend your favorite school or a rival gets a little bit creepy. Being a fan entails living vicariously through gifted athletes, and I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. When I was a senior at SU for the 2002-03 hoops season, I happily lived vicariously through my fellow Irishman, Gerry McNamara, despite the fact that he was three years my junior. But there’s a difference between vicariously feeling like part of the team, and absolutely living and dying with it. When you start taking the college choices of 17 year old kids so personally that you have to react violently, spewing profanity on Twitter, it might be time to reassess the decisions that brought you to this point in your life.

Tomorrow’s National Signing Day. If a kid chooses to attend Syracuse, congratulate him. If he chooses another school, congratulate him. He’s worked his ass off to achieve the dream of playing football while receiving a free college education. That’s worth applauding, no matter where he does it.

Please, I’m just begging all of you Syracuse fans out there: don’t be a dick tomorrow.

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