Scroll through Joshua Morgan's Twitter mentions from the past three days and a sick feeling takes hold of your stomach.
'He needs to die' 'you must die!' 'just delete yourself ... FROM LIFE!!!' 'Die slow' 'I FOUND HIM. KILL HIM.' 'I will murder you you [expletive] peice (sic) of [expletive], I WILL KILL YOU.'
Hundreds of stomach-churning tweets, jumbles of profanity and homosexual slurs and detailed threats against the life of the affable Washington Redskins wide receiver, raging over the split-second crime of flinging a football at St. Louis Rams defensive back Cortland Finnegan after being shoved in the facemask late in Sunday's game.
Morgan made one mistake.
For that, a torrent of Internet sewage aimed at the 27-year-old Washington, D.C., native who prepped at H.D. Woodson High School, starred at Virginia Tech and signed a two-year contract with the Redskins as a free agent during the offseason, driven by the "biggest appeal" of coming home.
This wasn't a few words of frustration or good-natured ribbing about a three-point loss. This wasn't isolated. This was a celebration of depraved one-upsmanship from an anonymous group who felt Morgan personally wronged them.
One man tweeted about his vow to "murder" Morgan if he set foot in the "DMV."
In response to questions through Twitter from The Washington Times, the man, who goes by the handle @John_Aye1 and is identified in his Twitter biography as John Ashworth from Maryland, wrote: "I don't regret it."
Then he called Morgan an "immature child." Another tweet: "I made some legitimate death threats against Josh Morgan. he deserved it tho"
Sadly, this isn't unique. Remember the racist tweets at Joel Ward after the Washington Capitals forward's goal beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of April's Eastern Conference first-round playoff series?
Hide behind a screen, and 140 characters of courage take hold. Hatred that wouldn't be tolerated in public oozes out and, perhaps, that shouldn't be surprising in an era where ill-informed rants pass for insight and shouting down an opposing view on cable talk shows substitutes for actual analysis. It's an era where we live behind those screens and snap off caustic one-liners instead of engaging in civil, adult debate and conversation. We react immediately, thoughts going from smartphone to Internet without the filter of time to process, say, the emotional end to a football game.
"People don't construct these things from the perspective of what someone else reading this might think," said Ed Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University.
What happened to Morgan is the new normal, where one segment of a passionate fan base so completely wraps their lives around 60 minutes on the football field each Sunday that they become disconnected from reality. Perspective evaporates. Not that we should need this disgorging of hate to remind us that, yes, even when the Redskins play, it's just a game.
"I hope someone throws a football at ur firstborn child," one person tweeted.
The author's biography indicated they're pursuing a career in the ministry and appreciate the message in John 13:34: "Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another."
One tweet expressed the hope Morgan will be sexually assaulted. Another suggested Morgan jump off St. Louis' Gateway Arch. Another fantasized about a future daughter of Morgan's being forced to become a child sex worker. Another threatened to come to Morgan's home and kill his dog. Another, endorsed by 80 gleeful retweets, compared Morgan to Washington's past "crack epidemic."
"I hope you lose your job, your house, your car, your jewelry, everything," yet another person tweeted.
Do you think any of these 'fans' would have the courage to express similar sentiments to Morgan's face?
The sleaze turns into a game of follow-the-leader. You know you can't run faster or jump higher than Morgan. But someone sitting on their couch can convince themselves that they wouldn't lose their cool as Morgan did, stoking indignation and, ironically, leading to the mass vitriol.
"It's our identity as fans, experiencing the 'we-ness,'" said Christian End, an associate psychology professor at Xavier University. "A lot of those initial responses were pretty hostile. When you see other people respond in that hostile way, it models to you aggression and models to you the way the group is feeling. So, you need to hop on board."
None of that, of course, justifies what happened.
"[That's] how the Internet talks," one person wrote me.
Really? Like the repeated encouragement for Morgan to end his life?
'GO KILL YOURSELF!' 'hang your self' ... 'Kill yourself.'
If you're so invested in a game that your knee-jerk reaction to a split-second mistake is to threaten someone's life, to wish harm on their family between expletives, you're the one with the problem. The one who really lost their cool. The one who needs help. Badly.
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