MINOT, N.D. — In more than a decade and a half of writing about fraught topics ranging from abortion to pipeline protests to partisan competitions for elected office, nothing I have typed has earned me more abuse, more sustained enmity than my criticism of the fiscal status quo in collegiate athletics.
So it was with no small degree of sympathy that I read about a Washington Post journalist subjected to the abuse of the internet hive mind and suspended by her employers for tweeting a link to a 2016 story about recently-deceased basketball megastar Kobe Bryant's sexual assault scandal.
The reporter had no snarky remark. Her intent, as near as I can tell, was to counterbalance some of the Bryant hagiography with a factual report about a less seemly part of his legacy.
Bryant was accused of rape by a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee. The criminal charges against him were only dropped when his accuser, who also received a civil settlement from Bryant, refused to testify.
Bryant was a phenomenal basketball player, who did a lot of great things off the court too, but those things don't erase what happened in Colorado. That, also, is a part of his legacy, and it's the job of people who work newsmedia to tell whole stories, not just the warm and fuzzy bits.
We're in a lot of trouble if reporters and editors shy away from factual, if unpleasant, stories because they fear angry online mobs.
My personal experience with this is more local, but no less telling.
When the North Dakota State University Football team won yet another national championship — which, hey, is pretty great! — I wrote a column pointing out that football does little to advance NDSU's academic goals. Sports programs at NDSU cost students and taxpayers millions of dollars in subsidies every year, at a time when the cost of higher education, and the related problem of burgeoning student loan debt, are national crises.
Because, again, our job in the news media is to tell the whole story. Not just football championships, but also the fact that sports programs inflate the cost of higher education.
That column earned me a collective "shut up" from football fans. My colleague, sports reporter Jeff Kolpack, was annoyed and said the issue is boring.
The more fanatic elements of the Bison faithful insulted my appearance, suggested I commit a sex act with my mother, and told me they could get me fired.
One troglodyte emailed me to suggest I was probably a Jew, given my concern for NDSU's finances.
I'm not Jewish, I'm a lapsed Lutheran of Scandinavian descent, but I'm not sure why it would matter if I were.
This outpouring of invective was illustrative of a national cancer called sports mania.
It inspires fistfights at Little League games.
It allows us to overlook genuine and pervasive risks to player safety.
Even the historically ugly world of partisan politics has worsened by taking on the characteristics of sports fanaticism, with the electorate declaring loyalty to their preferred teams and news commentators, aping all the worst tics of sports talk radio.
At what point does this all stop being fun?
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.