By Nathan Krohn
On the fourth down, with little more than 11 seconds left in the game, the Baltimore Ravens called upon their kicker, Billy Cundiff, to kick a 32-yard field goal that would send the game into overtime and give the Ravens a prime opportunity to win a trip to the Super Bowl. Cundiff lined up the kick and hooked the ball left, leaving players, coaches and announcers in shock. Cundiff had been automatic from that distance, and in fact no kicker in the entire league had missed a 32-yard field goal all season. The only possible explanation for such a gaffe was that he choked. Luckily for Cundiff, it wasn’t the worst mistake of the day.
A few hours later in San Francisco, backup kick returner Kyle Williams was thrown into action in the biggest game of his career after starter Ted Ginn Jr. was unable to start due to injury.
With 11:06 left in the fourth quarter, Williams set back to receive a punt, but the ball took a tricky bounce and grazed Williams’ knee, making it a live ball. New York recovered and went on to score a touchdown. With eight minutes remaining in overtime, Williams again fielded a punt but the ball was stripped from his hands and the Giants recovered in 49er territory, resulting in an easy 31-yard game winning field goal.
In a game that the Giants won 20-17, Williams’s two fumbles that resulted in 10 points was clearly the difference in the game, and fans immediately began harassing Williams about it. His twitter account instantly filled with messages such as “you should jump off the golden gate bridge for that one,” and “I hope you, your wife, kids and family die, you deserve it.”
Some people on twitter understand what Williams was going through and had a more sympathetic tone @Rodwilson58 wrote, “The stuff fans are saying about Kyle Williams is so sad. It’s just a game people. Remember that. In the end it’s a game.”
Unfortunately though, the old adage that sports is just a game doesn’t apply anymore. Professional athletes make tens of millions of dollars and college athletes are premiered on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. Winning and losing can mean the difference between success and unemployment. A sport at almost every level is a business and when things don’t go right in a business, someone needs to be held accountable. In this case, Billy Cundiff and Kyle Williams are being held more than just accountability.
Such animosity and hatred has been directed towards athletes before, for example, the infamous case of the ball that went right through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series. The error cost the Sox the series and at the time prolonged “the curse.” Buckner received death threats for years after the error and it is regarded in history as one of the biggest chokes of all time.
In 2010, Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal in regulation and a 29-year attempt in overtime as Boise State’s unbeaten season ended. Brotzman received threatening phone calls and was heavily taunted.
Having to endure such abuse as a college athlete seems ridiculous, but as the games become more significant so will the criticism.
While it may be difficult for many to put themselves in a professional athlete’s shoes and imagine what Cundiff or Williams is going through. Almost everyone can emphasize with what Brotzman went through. Other than being on the football team Brotzman went to class and was just like any other student at Boise State. We all are currently or were at some time in Brotzman’s shoes.
It should be noted that a “we still love Kyle Brotzman Facebook page was created and over 45,000 people liked it giving hope that despite it being a multi-billion dollar industry some people recognize maybe it is just a game after all.