If Studio C was still a thing (is it still a thing?) and making fun of BYU was a thing to do on BYUtv (do they ever make fun of themselves?) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a staple among Cougar fans (maybe BYU fans actually like the show?), then you can bet that there would be a parody skit called "Bleak Times at BY University."
It's been a brutal month of October for the football team and, therefore, a brutal month for BYU fans everywhere.
(I'm realizing that opening paragraph isn't nearly as creative or good as I thought it would be. Normally I'd re-write and come up with something better, but I am going to leave it up this time so you guys can see that not everything I write is a banger.)
((That was a joke, by the way. Of course I know not everything I write is a banger.))
Things suck. Losing sucks. When losses happen, being a fan kind of sucks. That makes interactions with other fans suck. Sometimes you're a little more reluctant to wear that BYU polo to the office. Sometimes you find yourself making Saturday plans over the top of the BYU game - something you'd never consider doing when the team is doing well.
When you're a big time sports fan, it really sucks when your team is losing. As any BYU fan can attest, things really suck right now.
This preface brings us to [deep breath] a discussion about social media.
I've sat here all day long and considered how I should write this newsletter today. My thoughts have been so scatter-brained and a prevailing thought of "people will call you a hypocrite, Jeff" nearly prevented me from writing about this subject at all. In fact, you almost got a newsletter featuring scary statistics about BYU football to help you enjoy your Halloween.
But here we are. Me, writing this article, knowing full well that I've been a hypocrite to the things I'm about to say. There is no sense is calling me out or pointing out all of my mistakes on this matter... believe me, I know about them all.
If you want to call me out, so be it. I probably deserve it anyways.
What are we really talking about here?
There were several instances of blech on BYU social media this week. One involved an account criticizing Kalani Sitake's IQ (in fairness to the account, they clarified later on that they meant football IQ, not general intelligence). Another player's wife took to Instagram to express her displeasure with the football program and then fans of the football program responded. There was also another post on CougarBoard discussing Kalani's intelligence, but it went all the way back to his middle-school days to get to the real root of the issue, apparently.
None of these tweets or posts or stories were very kind or friendly.
The responses to each of these tweets or posts or stories were also similarly unfriendly.
It was ugly. The original tweets/posts/stories were largely bad opinions or instances of using the internet as a platform for an outlet. The responses were largely people sticking up for their programs and/or coach in response.
Simply put: It was a bad weekend for BYU on the internet. It's becoming more and more of a thing as the losses continue to pile up. It's easy to be kind and friendly when things are going well, but when things aren't? Well, it's a lot tougher.
Kindness or loyalty? Authenticity or humility? Serious or sarcastic? Logical or emotional? Where is the balance?
Let's start with a tale.
Remember when Nevada came to BYU and beat the pants off the Cougars in 2010? I do. It was one of my darker moments on Twitter.
Romney Fuga, who I had served my mission with and consider a friend, went down with an injury in this game. Nevada had a running play where the tailback got loose and into the third level of the defense. Fuga, who was a nose tackle, was running behind the play and largely a non-factor in the action going on where the ball carrier was. At that point, a Nevada offensive lineman named Johnathan Bender dove into the back of Fuga's legs. Fuga tore his ACL and was lost for the year.
From my vantage point, the play was dirty and completely unnecessary. As a BYU fan, I booed and booed in the stadium because I was angry that the loss of Fuga was going to hurt my team. As a friend of Fuga, I booed and booed because my friend was now hurt and couldn't play anymore.
Like any good fan or friend, I took to Twitter following the game.
I have since deleted the tweet (it was easy to find as it was my first ever tweet) so I can't remember what it said verbatim, but the gist was something like this: "Hey Bender (yes, I tagged him), I hope you break both of your legs after someone cheap shots you next week, you bum."
It wasn't my finest moment.
Bender never responded and I don't know if he ever even saw it. But I sure remembered it. Years later when I finally learned how to go back in time and find the tweet, I deleted it as I was embarrassed by what I said.
Another story: A couple of years ago, someone posted something that I thought was funny. I RT'd it and had a chuckle to myself. To be candid, I don't even remember what it was that was said, I only remember the DM that I got from someone who I had never spoken to before.
"Jeff, you are one of the brightest accounts on Twitter. You generally speak up for those who can't and try to be kind. That's why it was so disappointing to see you laughing at a tweet that so clearly humiliates and embarrasses LGBTQ people. You can believe what you want to believe but I never would have expected you to publicly mock those people with a platform like yours."
My gut reaction was defensive. I hadn't even thought of LGBTQ anything when I saw the tweet and, in my mind, there nothing offensive about the tweet. I had a response typed out and ready to go to this person, basically prepared to fight for my honor.
Fortunately, I got a phone call and it distracted me for a while.
When I went back to Twitter to send the response, something told me to look things over again and try a different paradigm. As I did this, I realized that this anonymous DMer was completely right. I certainly didn't intend to offend anyone, but I definitely could have.
I deleted the tweet and responded to the DMer and thanked them for calling me out on my wrongness.
Last story: You all remember the Duke volleyball/BYU racist thing. I had an opinion about that that many people disagreed with. I called the alleged racist an asshole and concluded that everyone who heard the alleged racism and didn't address it was a coward.
When the results of the investigation came out and showed that no racist slurs had been said by any BYU students that night, people came and called me out, demanding an apology.
In that circumstance, I doubled down, told people to go pound sand (I said 'kindly go pound sand'.... I'm not a monster), and moved on with my life. There was no apology. There were no deleted tweets.
What I did do that day was join a podcast hosted by one of the people calling me out and telling me I was wrong. We had a discussion. I provided my context and he his. We agreed on some things, changed our minds on other things, and held true to our original opinions on others still. In the end, it was respectful.
Three stories of people being #mad #online. One resulted in a quiet deleted tweet that nobody ever saw or knew about. One in a deleted tweet and apology after realizing how wrong I was, albeit unintentionally wrong. And other one where I stood my ground and ignored calls to change as a result of offending someone.
Those are just three examples from my own Twitter-life. There are hundreds more. Sometimes I handle things the right way and others the wrong way. Sometimes I'm proud for being strong enough to stand up against a mob of critics and other times I'm proud that I'm willing enough to listen and admit I was wrong.
How do you know when to do which thing?
Short answer: There is no right answer. Everyone just has to do you. But it's been a long time since I've been on the internet and I have learned a few things that I've found helpful, so why not share those?
In the face of criticism or disagreement, quietly assume you did something wrong before you dig your heels in. It's easy to admit a mistake was made than it is to fight for a cause that isn't worth fighting for.
I'm only 33 years old, but over the last few years of my life, I've really grown to understand that I am a bona fide idiot. But even more than recognizing that I'm an idiot, I have come to realize that other people are really smart.
I still have areas of expertise and there are still things that I say where I KNOW I'm right, but I have started to challenge myself more often than I used to.
"I think I'm right about _____, but what if I actually am wrong? What would that look like?"
I ask myself that question like 40 times a day. "If I'm actually wrong, what would that look like?"
More often than not, I realize that there is something that I hadn't considered. At that point, it is my responsibility to take that something and re-evaluate my take with the new variable added into the equation.
At first, this was uncomfortable to do and it took way longer than I wanted. Now, it's almost second-nature that I'm hearing things and challenging my own beliefs. I've come to the conclusion that if I really have an opinion that is right or that I shouldn't back down from, then it should be able to withstand my criticism.
Being right about something that doesn't actually matter doesn't trump being wrong about something that does.
When I was called out for offending LGBTQ people, I had a few choices. I could have clarified what I really meant and dug my heels in. I could have ignored the anonymous DM and acted like it wasn't an issue. Or, I could have said something about 'don't care about feelings so just be tougher.'
All of those options were valid and had a perfectly justifiable reasoning for being the "correct" path for me to take.
But, ultimately, the original tweet was something stupid about BYU football that had no actual bearing on my life or anyone else's life. There is no valor in fighting against criticism or against being woke if the person I'm fighting for is... a moderately funny tweet about BYU football?
The tweet didn't matter. While I certainly didn't mean any harm with my words, I realized that harm definitely could have happened. When I took away my feelings and my pride, my choice was 'a few extra hearts and maybe a follower or two because of this funny zinger' or 'avoiding real people actually being offended over what I said, even if no offense was intended.'
At that point, the choice clear. Apologize and move on.
Some things - nay, most things - on the internet just aren't that serious. It isn't worth fighting for. Going after a coach's IQ... who cares? Ripping apart a girl for being mad about a parking situation... does it really matter?
Okay, but Jeff, sometimes you are an absolute dick to people on the internet so where do you get off standing on this soapbox?
That statement is absolutely false. There are times that I am an absolute jerk to people. Most of the time I feel bad about it. I can't count how many DMs I've sent, apologizing to people after I've said something stupid. I have deleted tweets and I have regretted some when I've seen my past crop up.
But there are times that I don't feel bad and I do have a process to make that delineation in my mind.
Am I disagreeing with someone's take about the Braves and who should be signed in free agency? Or am I disagreeing with someone who is going after someone personally?
If I let emotions get the best of me and I'm arguing about play calling after a tough loss, I'm probably in the wrong. My tweets won't change the outcome of a football game and, frankly, my opinion is probably wrong - or at best ill-informed - anyways. When that happens, I try to err on the side of kindness.
If I'm calling someone out as an asshole for something that actually matters - like a person, or a family, or something else - then I am a little more judicious with my apologies. Sometimes they're warranted, but sometimes I'm comfortable with people thinking I'm a dick because I told them not to be racist cowards or something.
It's not an exact science, this process. I'm sure I've gotten it wrong as many times as I have right. But I do try to find that balance.
The internet isn't real except for those times that it's the realest.
The last thought is that the internet isn't real. Twitter doesn't represent real life and the groupthink of Twitter doesn't usually align with the groupthink of the world. Twitter is fake and everyone knows that.
Twitter personas are fake. Twitter characters are fake (even YAnon). There is a lot of fake on the internet.
People of the internet, however, are real. Even the celebrities. Even the coaches. Even the ones with the bad opinions.
People are still real and when someone is attacked because of something fake that they did on Twitter, there can be and frequently are very real consequences for a very real person.
This is important for everyone.
When you are a dick on Twitter, people are going to be a dick in response. You have to have a thick skin and you have to the ability to ignore criticism.
You also have to have the ability to see whether you're actually the one in the wrong and the people who are upset with you are actually real people with real emotions.
It's not a perfect balance.
All in all, BYU twitter was ugly this weekend... all the way around. People who rant and rave about the character or the intelligence or the intentions of football coaches or school administrators are opening themselves up for criticism. They aren't victims and they shouldn't respond to that criticism with pleas for civility or finger-pointing of the things that others are doing that somehow justify their initial take.
Critics should also be kind and recognize when some things just don't matter and it isn't worth hurting real people over.
And there is a phrase that none of us should ever be afraid of:
I was wrong and I am sorry.
When we say it with real intent, it should mean something and we should actually strive to correct our actions.
When we hear it, it should mean something and we should forgive, pull back our metaphorical reins, and let a person live their live.
I have failed at this many times - from both sides of the coin. I'm trying to get it right every time, but I will continue to fail more in the future.
If we all embark on that 'try journey' together, we'll avoid more weekends like this one on BYU internet.