Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.
Unless, of course, you're Vander Blue.
In that case, the words hurt.
And it was only a matter of time before we got here, wasn't it?
|If Bo Ryan loses Vander Blue for good because of message boards, he might pull his hair out. (Getty Images)|
Vander Blue decommitted from Wisconsin earlier this week.
It was not national news.
He is not John Wall.
But what made it a national story -- and perhaps a lesson for the uncivilized world of message boards, if we're lucky -- is that the decommitment was prefaced by a story about the Madison native's alleged academic woes, which led to some Wisconsin fans spending their days publicly bashing the Class of 2010 standout on the Internet. They questioned his attitude, character and intelligence. And guess what? Vander Blue read it and it bothered him.
He is 16 years old, by the way.
"I felt like I was in a corner, trapped and I couldn't get out," Blue told the Milwaukee paper. "I just felt like it was so unnecessary. I don't think I'm that worse of a guy. Sometimes I might be tired and have a little attitude, [but] I don't think I'm a horrible person.
"Forty year-old adults talking about somebody who don't got their license yet; I just felt it was so unnecessary," Blue added. "Picture yourself in my position. Rumors going around, you're just keeping quiet. And you read the article and 1,000 people [are] throwing you under the bus."
It would be easy to spend the next 250 words killing Wisconsin fans.
It would also miss the larger point.
Because this is not a story about Blue and Wisconsin as much as it's a story about message boards, and how total anonymity allows people to attack and attack and attack with little regard for the folks they are attacking. On a personal level, I can't tell you how many wild (and anonymous) words are written about me each month either on message boards or via e-mail; words that question my integrity, background, education, sexuality, hairstyle (that one's open for criticism, I suppose) and anything else you can imagine. Every once in a while, I actually take the time to respond in the most reasonable way I know. And more times than not, I get a response within hours from somebody apologizing and explaining how they would've never been so rude or brash or ignorant if they really believed I would read it.
Well, I got news for you: I read it.
As does Vander Blue.
And though I'm an adult with a high-profile job who is by definition fair game, Vander Blue is -- as he put it -- "somebody who don't got their license yet." He has not graced magazine covers, played on national television, appeared in police blotters or done anything to make himself a target. The only notable things about him are that he's pretty good at basketball, and that he has committed to and decommitted from Bo Ryan's Wisconsin program. That's it. And yet dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of people -- some of whom are most certainly adults with children of their own -- have spent this week trashing Blue and everything about him to the point where it's reasonable to presume they've hurt the future recruitment of the prospect they once believed would lead the Badgers to Big Ten titles.
That's the kicker, you see.
Though Blue decommitted from Wisconsin, he never eliminated Wisconsin from his list of potential destinations. Rather, he just said he wanted to take another look around and make sure everything was a right fit because he committed when he was only 15. Makes sense to me. It probably makes sense to most people. But his wavering didn't make sense to some Wisconsin fans, and they responded with personal attacks that led to a good old-fashioned your-school-sucks/no-your-school-sucks war on a message board with Marquette fans. Poor Vander Blue just caught in the middle, young Vander Blue now scarred by the wrath of the same people he thought loved him just weeks ago.
He said it all made him feel like the "worst person in Madison."
But I suspect some anonymous posters have a better hold on that label.