Fans put a lot of faith and passion into their teams, for many different reasons. Maybe they’re dead broke and their favorite team is the only thing they have to look forward to, Maybe they’ve bet a lot of money on a team, or maybe they’re engaging in a bit of a rivalry with their friends and family. As a result, we put more than just faith and passion into our favorite teams, we put our hearts into them. When they win, it’s like we were a part of that win too, and when they lose, it feels like we lost. The emotional roller-coaster is a huge part of sports; some people handle it well, others are sore losers.
It’s that group of people, those losers and social rejects who can’t handle losing that take it to extremes, like sending death threats to a player who dropped a pass or a soccer player who accidentally scored an own goal. Or maybe someone from outside their favorite team insults their favorite player and they get defensive. It’s not limited to athletes either, plenty of people call for coaches to get fired, like those people who spent who knows how much money to fly those planes over Miami Hurricanes games reading “Fire Al Golden.” Well, those people got their wish.
Whatever the reason, the world sports community can be a violent, bitter, and disgusting place at times, and social media has made it that much worse. Calling for a coach to be fired or a player to be benched is one thing, but when it turns into people shouting death threats at players or coaches on social media or in real life, a line has been crossed. It doesn’t matter if you think a person is serious or not, a death threat is never okay and, as we’re about to find out, it’s not always an empty gesture.
21 Gabriel Agbonlahor
Let’s start with something funny. You know, get it out of the way before we talk about the BS and terrible people coming up.
You might remember the name ‘One Direction,’ that was seemingly plastered on everything just a few years ago. The mainstream music industry has moved on from them for the most part, but they still have a rabid fan base of pre-teens, tweens, and maybe one or two teenagers. Who would have thought young girls could be so vicious?
Gabriel Agbonlahor, a striker for Aston Villa, was playing in a charity soccer match with a member of 1D, Louis Tomlinson, back in 2013. Agbonlahor at one point ran into Tomlinson by mistake. The teen idol instantly fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. He was taken out of the game and then threw up on the sidelines.
20 Petr Cech
Fans of boy pop bands don’t have anything on soccer fans when it comes to diehard tenacity. Whenever a player leaves one team for another, especially a rival, you can bet he’s going to get hate from fans.
One such player is Petr Cech, the former Chelsea goalkeeper who's now playing for rival Arsenal. Saying Cech simply got a few death threats would be putting it mildly.
“Go f--- yourself. F---ing brain damaged ugly sk--. Hope your kids have cancer,” wrote @Enegali10 on Twitter. “I'm going to bring my SR-25 sniper rifle to the Bridge when we play Arsenal. Will be so f---ing good to see Cech's blood on the pitch." Notice how he didn’t just say ‘sniper rifle,’ he named a specific model. That makes it all the creepier.
18 Jackson Playfair
You can file this one under ‘weird’ as well. Jackson Playfair, a Western Hockey League player in Canada, received death threats from a freelance journalist, who also happened to be his ex-girlfriend.
Tieja MacLaughlin, allegedly found out that Playfair went on a date with another woman. She then called him over the phone and told Jackson that she was coming after him and that he would “be dead by the end of the night.” MacLaughlin would be wrong, both morally and factually, and was later arrested and taken to court.
17 Khris Davis
Sometimes an athlete can receive death threats for no other reason than because they’re famous, and some internet tough guy is having a bad day (or life) and wants to vent in the most extreme way possible. Such is the case when Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Khris Davis was in Chicago with his team last year.
A Twitter user calling himself “Xero Vanderbilt,” used racial slurs to threaten Davis and his family. “You (sic) family should all be killed,” the grammatically challenged Xero screamed on social media.
16 Logan Stokes
Here’s another weird one, because people always find a “reason” for sending someone death threats. LSU tight end Logan Stokes received death threats from Alabama fans, not (only) for catching the game winning touchdown against Ole Miss last year, but also for accidentally showing off an Alabama player’s tight end to the whole world.
In a scrum near the end zone, Stokes was getting out from the pile when he decided, out of the blue, that it would be a great idea to pull an Alabama player’s pants down. The camera caught the full moon and the player in question didn’t seem to be happy about it.
15 Juan Camilo Zuniga
Ha, just kidding earlier about laying off soccer.
Soccer in Brazil is no joke. For example, two years ago, a soccer referee stabbed a player to death on the pitch, then the fans stormed the field, then killed and quartered the ref. You don’t want to mess with Brazilian soccer fans under any circumstance.
But that’s what Juan Camilo Zuniga, a Columbian forward, did by accidentally ending Neymar’s World Cup in 2014. Zuniga was going for the ball when he accidentally tripped the Brazilian star, resulting in a fractured vertebrae.
According to Zuniga, fans managed to find his phone number and called in harassment and death threats throughout the rest of the World Cup. He even had to hire bodyguards at one point to escort him around the country, fearing the team’s security guards weren’t enough.
14 Mary Willingham
Something a bit different this time, Mary Willingham isn’t an athlete at all. However, she conducted a large study into college athletes, specifically at the University of North Carolina, and found that between 8% and 10% of the school’s student athletes read below the third-grade level.
UNC denied the allegations and college football fans lined up to send Willingham harassment and death threats. As much as fans love attacking other players, they feel the need to support their own more than anything else.
As of January 2014, Mary says she’s received four death threats and “more than 30 other alarming messages. University police claimed they were looking into the threats, but as of now, nothing has come from the claims.
13 ESPN’s Football Analysts
Nothing says stupid quite like “DeflateGate” (or indeed putting “Gate” at the end of random words whenever there’s a controversy). But that’s what the media did, starting with ESPN, when they took a story about some of Tom Brady’s deflated balls and ran with them. Ran with it, I mean.
Among the bunch were Tom Jackson, Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson, and Mike Ditka. Most of them seemed to think it wasn’t much of a big deal at all, but that didn’t stop Patriots fans from defending the team or multi-millionaire/pro-bowl quarterback/Super Bowl winning/super-model wife having Tom Brady either. A guy like that needs defending, primarily with death threats.
12 Kyle Williams
Fans will support their own players, as long as those players don’t screw up, like Kyle Williams did in 2012.
The San Francisco 49ers were basically en route to the Super Bowl in the NFC Championship game when their kick returner, 6th round pick Kyle Williams, fumbled the ball not once, but twice, including once in overtime to give the Giants the ball on the 49ers 25 yard line. The 49ers ended up losing the game, thanks in large part to the points they scored off those turnovers. Sure enough, Williams got plenty of death threats all around, especially on Twitter.
“I hope you, youre (sic) wife, kids and family die, you deserve it,” wrote @javpasquel.
11 Blake O’Neill
Speaking of players screwing up, how about Blake O’Neill, huh? I don’t mean to be too harsh on him, but at least in Williams’s case you can also blame the defense for not stopping the Giants. In Michigan’s loss to Michigan State a few weeks ago, the loss is entirely the fault of punter O’Neil.
The Michigan Wolverines were up 23-21 with 10 seconds left on the clock. All O’Neill had to do was catch the ball and kick it. Instead, after a clean snap, the ball bounced out of his hands. Instead of falling on it, he tried to kick it, landing it right in the hands of a Michigan State player, who returned it for a touchdown.
10 Tommie Smith and John Carlos
You might not know their names, but you’ve certainly seen their pictures before and you know what they did. Tommie Smith and John Carlos are the two black Olympians who stood on the podium in the 1968 Olympics and gave the “Black Power” symbol for the whole world to see. And the whole world did see it, including the racists. For better or worse, this was obviously well before the time of social media, so those looking to send death threats had to work to instill fear in their targets.
Brett Musburger kicked off the “festivities” by calling the two “black-skinned storm troopers,” and called Smith a “militant black.”
9 Brandon Bostick
Really, you could just read Kyle Williams' entry again and you’ll have the gist of it.
Earlier this year, last season in the NFL, the Seahawks were losing to the Packers in the NFC Championship game in a one score game. They kicked an onside kick that went right into Bostick’s hands and then right back out. Thanks in part to this, the Seahawks managed to score another touchdown, and eventually won in overtime. Many NFL players and pundits criticized Bostick, stating that his job was to block and let one of the recovers behind him catch the ball.
Whoever is at fault, Bostick got the blame and the death threats.
8 Steve Blake
Feel free to stop reading if you’ve heard this one before: a player on a team has a chance to win the game, fails, and he then gets a ton of death threats. At least this one’s a different sport.
Back in 2012, Blake missed a big shot that could have won his team the game in a playoff games against the Thunder. The death threats came in fast and viscous from all around, for both he and his wife. His wife actually retweeted a few of them for the world to see.
7 Patrick Beverley
Beverley got death threats for much the same reason Gabriel Agbonlahor and Juan Camilo Zuniga got threats for. Death threats are pretty formulaic and predictable in general, actually.
Beverly injured Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook in game two of the Western Conference Finals back in 2013. The two bumped into each other, which happens a million times in the NBA, but Westbrook happened to get hurt this time, tearing his meniscus in his right knee. Some have called it a dirty play, but those people are whiners.
Beverly, of course, got death threats from Oklahoma City fans, including the Thunder’s ball boy. “Patrick Beverley (sic), I'm coming to kill you,” Mitchell Brown wrote on Twitter, too cowardly to say it to Beverley’s face.
6 Brandon Jacobs
Here’s another new one: a fan once tweeted threats to Brandon Jacobs because he didn’t score enough points. Not because the Giants ended up losing the game, but because the guy sending the death threats lost his fantasy football game.
Jacobs missed a game due to injury in 2013, and in the days before and after the game, Twitter user Andre Rayner sent death threats to Jacobs and his family.
“ON LIFE BRANDON IF YOU DON’T RUN FOR 50 YARDS AND 2 TOUCHDOWNS TONIGHT ITS OVER FOR YOU AND YO FAMILY,” in all caps, per usual. “FULFILL MY ORDERS STATED IN THE PREVIOUS TWEET OR THATS YO LIFE BRUH AND IM NOT PLAYING,” he followed it up with.
NFL security looked into the threats and nothing came of it, blah blah blah.
Amusingly, it was Jacobs who called out the user on Twitter, taking a screen capture of the tweets and saying “look at what we deal with.” Another user that same week was less harsh, writing “next time tell us you’re not playing before I have to set my lineup.” Jacobs responded wonderfully with, “F--- you and your fantasy team. This is my real life.”
5 Jose Canseco
Perhaps one of the most hated players in baseball, Jose Canseco has made a name for himself less for what he did on the diamond, but more for selling his story of steroids in baseball. His testimony about the seedy underbelly of performance enhancing drugs in baseball played a big role in cleaning up the sport, perhaps the biggest role.
But people don’t like snitches, even people that weren’t snitched on at all. They don’t like people desperately trying to sell a book and potentially making things up, or exaggerating things either, to be fair.
Canseco didn’t say anything about the threats for years and didn’t specify where they came from, but in 2012 he told the press that he received countless threats after publishing Juiced, his tell all memoir.
4 LeBron James
“The Decision,” an hour and a half long TV special that aired on ESPN in 2009, was centered entirely on one person and one question. LeBron James and where he would sign as a free-agent. He picked Miami, leaving his hometown of Cleveland and the Cavaliers, and doing it in the most painful way possible to Cavs fans. Days later, he and his new teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were raised onto a stage with flashing lights and smoke going off.
“Not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7,” he would say about how many titles he would win there.
This didn’t make Cleveland fans happy. The man once known as “King” was suddenly the most hated figure in the NBA and perhaps all of sports.
So an ESPN commenter took to the Worldwide Leader to threaten anyone who brought LeBron James’s shoes. “Was watching children and wouldn’t mind murdering them.” That was written by Eric Lee, a 21 year old Yale dropout. Lee’s father was also arrested at the same time for procession of an illegal firearm, in case you were thinking this wasn’t serious.
3 Hank Aaron
Okay, here’s another category of death threat: the “you’re about to break my favorite player’s record” threat, but this can also be filed under the “you’re black” kind of death threat as well.
In 1974, Hank Aaron was getting close to Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Being a black player in baseball back then, as we’ll see again later, was difficult. But Aaron played anyway and he was damn good. But some fans didn’t like him, like one person who sent him a letter that year.
“Dear Hank,” the letter starts out innocently enough, “You are a very good ballplayer, but if you come close to Babe Ruth's 714 homers I have a contract out on you. Over 700 and you can consider yourself punctured with a .22 shell. If by the all-star game you have come within 20 homers of Babe you will be shot on sight by one of my assassins on July 24, 1973.”
Whoever wrote that must have thought the “you’re a good ball player” part at the start would make writing the letter okay.
Another letter began with “Retire or die,” and the wrote gave Aaron his schedule, saying he’d “move with them [the team]” and “you will die in one of those games. I will shoot you in one of those.”
2 Jackie Robinson
The man who broke the color barrier in not only baseball, but all professional sports in the US, Jackie Robinson definitely received a lot of death threats from racists. Hate, insults, harassment, and threats were a daily part of his life and the lives of his family members.
One letter he received by an illiterate moron was made famous and found its way online over the years. “Robinson we are going to kill you if you attempt to enter a ball game at Crosley Field. Note we already got rid of several like you One was found in river just recently,” it reads.
1 Andres Escobar
Of all of these threats, you’ll notice that no one actually acted on them. Those other 19 people were lucky, in that regard at least. Andres Escobar wasn’t so lucky. Andres Escobar was one of those people who didn’t take the death threats seriously and paid for it dearly.
Escobar was a player on the Colombian National Soccer team during the 1994 World Cup. Colombia was actually one of the favorites back then, led by some top caliber talent. But the team wasn’t playing up to their potential and in an elimination game, Andrew “the Gentleman of the Field” Escobar made a fatal error. He accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal, giving the United States a win and knocking Columbia out of the World Cup.
Earlier in the tournament, after a 3-1 loss to Romania, several members of the team got faxed (yes, really) death threats from Colombian fans. No one took it seriously, because why would you, right?
After Escobar returned home, he went to a disco club (again, yes, really) to take his mind off it. When he got there, there were chants of “own goal” and people threatening him. He left the club, but was harassed outside as well. Escobar had enough and confronted one of the people harassing him. Little did Escobar know he was talking to a gang member, Humberto Munoz. Munoz told Escobar he “didn’t know who he was messing with,” before shooting him six times.
Munoz probably was one of the people who sent the death threat, but it goes to show that when you’re an athlete, or anyone famous, it pays to take threats and harassment seriously, especially if you’re specifically getting targeted. Death threats are never okay, they’re never funny, and they’re always worth taking seriously. Is a teenage girl going to kill Gabriel Agbonlahor? Probably not, but who’s to say some idiot with intentions of being famous won’t?
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