By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sadly, what reportedly was said to Iowa sophomore forward Kris Murray as he walked off the court after Sunday’s loss at Illinois is neither unusual nor surprising.
It’s the world we live in, and while it might seem worse at this moment, the hate, vitriol and verbal abuse that often occurs at live sporting events is hardly a new problem.
That somebody would reportedly tell Kris Murray to go kill himself while using an f-bomb apparently for shock value, while also saying that he sucks with another f-bomb is disappointing, discouraging and infuriating, especially for Kris Murray’s father, Kenyon Murray, who shared his anger on Twitter.
Kenyon Murray said that he had left a message with the Illinois athletic director, the Illinois basketball staff, the Iowa athletic department and the Iowa basketball staff, voicing his hurt and anger as a parent.
Kenyon Murray knows all about being harassed by opposing fans as a former Iowa basketball player, and as three-year starter in the 1990s.
It goes with the territory, but every territory has boundaries and what was said to Kris Murray crossed the line.
Kenyon Murray said in his tweet that a fan can “say what you want about the game or how my kid played, but this….” and he followed it with an emoji to help illustrate his anger.
Kris Murray was an easy target after having a missed a potential game-winning 3-point shot in the final seconds of Sunday’s 74-72 loss at Illinois, and after having missed three free throws down the stretch.
But to say that he should kill himself is just beyond any sense of decency and is highly disturbing.
But again, it’s not that unusual.
My most vivid memory from covering the Iowa’s football team’s 34-27 loss at Arizona in 2010 has nothing to do with the game, but rather the walk up to the stadium in Tucson.
I was wearing my press credential that said Iowa City Press-Citizen, which is where I worked at the time, and that made me the enemy to a group of Arizona fans that had formed two lines for us to walk through just outside the stadium.
The next thing I know I’m being called every name in the book with f-bombs being hurled left and right, as was anybody else wearing Hawkeye attire.
These fans weren’t joking, either.
They had hate, and disgust in their eyes.
And if they hated the opposing media that much, imagine how they felt about the Iowa players.
There was also an incident at an Indiana men’s basketball game in the mid-1990s when a person sitting in the Indiana student section wanted to fight me because I was with the opposing media.
The visiting media was seated behind the Indiana student section, so it already was a combustible situation that nearly boiled over.
Social media has undoubtedly fueled and emboldened the willingness to lash out, and say things that cross the line. But the challenge to fight at Indiana happened a decade before the launch of Twitter.
In no way am I trying to minimize, or excuse what happened to Kris Murray because it is despicable and shouldn’t be tolerated.
But unfortunately, it’s not that unusual, or unique to a certain fan base.
Wisconsin wrestler Austin Gomez said he was subjected to racial slurs and taunts when the Badgers faced Iowa in February at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Iowa Athletic Department apologized to Gomez shortly thereafter and launched an investigation that has yet to identify publicly who made the alleged comments.
It’s easy to say that we all should behave better, and make sure that we don’t cross the line of acceptable behavior in the heat of the moment, but that really is the solution.
A sporting event is one of few places were it’s okay to be critical and to harass opponents, and most fans know how far to take it without crossing the line.
I’ve been covering Iowa athletics for 30 years, but never have I had heard a fan say anything close to what was allegedly said to Gomez.
One of the problems with these types of incidents is that some want to paint an entire fanbase with a broad brush.
But that just isn’t fair.
I would like to think that most Iowa fans wouldn’t say what was allegedly said to Gomez, nor would they tolerate it being said.
And the same with Illinois fans, although, I haven’t been around Illinois fans nearly as much as Iowa fans, obviously.
I remember in 1999 when Illinois fans, mostly seated in the student section, chanted over and over “Tom got fired” in response to then Iowa men’s basketball coach tom Davis serving as a lame duck coach that season. It was mean-spirited, but it didn’t cross the line like the comments to Kris Murray did.
Tom Davis also got the last laugh as Iowa defeated Illinois 78-72 on that day in late February.
Iowa and Illinois have a long-standing rivalry, especially in men’s basketball, and people sometimes cross the line.
What was said to Kris Murray without question crossed the line, and what a weird choice for a player to single out for criticism.
Kris Murray and his twin brother, Keegan Murray, rarely show much emotion on the court, nor do they try to bring attention to themselves.
They just play hard and try to win and are about as controversial as an Easter egg hunt.
Fans certainly have a right to tease, taunt and harass opposing players in the heat of competition.
But they don’t have a right to say whatever they want for shock value or just to be mean.
It’s also worth noting, or maybe reminding is a better word, that game officials have been verbally abused by fans for too long to remember.
I can almost guarantee what was said to Kris Murray has been said to game officials, too.
Some just feel that paying to be at a sporting event gives them to the freedom, and the right to say things that they never would say in most public venues. The boundaries are much wider at sporting events, but there still are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.
Alcohol is sometimes a factor in these kinds of incidents, but that still isn’t an excuse.
With everything that is happening in the world these days, you would like to think that people would show more restraint and realize that it’s just a sporting event.
Unfortunately, that’s asking too much from some people.