Folks used to refer to Athens as a football town with a drinking problem. Now I suppose it is fair to say that Athens — with more than 50 bars and night clubs — is a drinking town with a football problem. And for all you non-sports fans out there, don’t toss the paper aside without continuing because this column really and truly isn’t about football or sports, but about a greater phenomenon that has slowly taken over our culture since the onset of the Internet age — the anonymous blog.
In case you don’t follow such things, Mark Richt took over as football coach at the University of Georgia nine years ago and immediately restored that once proud program and thrust it back into the national limelight. His second team won the first SEC championship for the Bulldogs in 20 years, and three years later he added a second. His teams finished in the top 10 in the nation six of his first eight years, and he has been able to beat Georgia’s interstate rival, Georgia Tech, eight times in nine tries.
But all people want to know nowadays is, “What have you done lately?” And lately, Coach Richt’s teams have been rather mediocre. Well, if you count 10-3, which they were just two full seasons ago, as mediocre. Last year was a slip with only eight wins, and the start this year hasn’t been too promising.
OK. It has been bad with three straight conference losses.
But here’s the point. All programs go through down years and have problems. Alabama was 3-9 not too long ago and lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. Vince Dooley, the winningest coach in UGA history, had many, many years when his teams won only six of 10 games and a couple when they didn’t win that many. But here is the difference. Vince Dooley didn’t have to deal with the Internet. Now everybody has an opinion about everything. Let me amend that. Now everyone is an expert about everything! Not only does everybody know everything, but everybody also has an anonymous outlet on the Internet.
People can go online and post any comments they want about any subject and don’t even have to say who they are, and for the past two years would-be Georgia fans have gone into a frenzy, demanding that Mark Richt fire all of his coaches and that the University fire Mark Richt and that his children be sold into slavery and that he should be stoned on the Athens-Clarke County courthouse lawn — and worse.
Such response is not limited to Georgia or football or athletics. We have created a monster, and that monster is the ability to take free speech to ridiculous levels.
Now I realize that it is, indeed, a free country and that everyone has a right to his or her opinion. I appreciate that right more than most because I enjoy the privilege of expressing mine on a regular basis. But here’s the thing. When I express my opinion, I am very open and up front about the fact that it is my opinion. I claim it. I take ownership of it. I am responsible for it and, as I have stated many times in this and other forums, mine is the only opinion I have. When people disagree with my opinions — as they frequently do — my normal response is “I am so glad I wasn’t trying to express your opinion. I would have failed miserably.”
But when I do express my opinion, my name and face are always right there with it. I don’t say anything unless I am willing to claim it. I never hide behind anonymity. The bloggers and the haters can’t say the same thing, and that’s what tends to rub me the wrong way.
People can log onto blogs and the phone polls and the comments sections of news articles and say anything they want without bearing the burden of proof — or truth — in any way. They can make anonymous personal attacks and say things they would never, ever, ever dare say to a person’s face — without fear of repercussion of any sort. I think it is just one more example that we are presiding over the decline of civilization.
I have been disappointed with the direction Georgia’s football program has taken the past couple of years and have often voiced my frustration with certain events and decisions — but never anonymously. And I have never, ever, ever attacked the character of my team’s coaching staff. I know Mark Richt well and I know him to be a good and decent person who tries to coach his team according to the same Christian principles by which he lives his life. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have work with my own children. I certainly would never kick him while he’s down. And to all the so-called Georgia fans who are ready to jump off the bandwagon, don’t let the door hit you in the bottom on your way out. There is plenty of room at Grant Field every Saturday — but they don’t want you, either.
And when the ship is righted — don’t try to climb back on. We will do fine without you.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at email@example.com.