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A man lost his job on Dec. 11. His livelihood was stripped from him, his wife and four children forced to pack up their belongings and move. They had been in town three years, and just as they were getting settled, they were on the move again.

People cheered. Quite loudly, actually.

“Thank god lol,” “about damn time,” and “good riddance,” were the first three replies to a post about it on Twitter. We’re talking about former UNC defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, of course. Few wished him well for his future, even fewer said they felt bad for him and his family. It’s true he didn’t necessarily flourish in his position, but people were thrilled when his job was taken away from him.

This isn’t the way you treat your buddy who loses his day job. It’s because he coaches football.

***

Marvin Williams walked across a stage and was handed his college diploma on Dec. 14. This is a success story, and it should be treated as such.

Williams grew up in a single-mother household, flew across the country to attend college and left after one year to pursue a professional opportunity. Despite earning dozens of millions of dollars by now, he went to school for 10 straight summers to earn a degree from one of the top public universities in the country. He did it to keep a promise he made to his mother.

“The value of a degree from ewenc has dropped again,” a user named TTKPS wrote on the WRAL.com message board. “Shouldn’t it have taken fewer than 9 years with @unc fake classes to get a degree?” wrote Kevin Hastings on Twitter.

At a moment of supreme achievement, Williams was cut down by a large cast of characters. He was mocked for graduating, just another target for those who’ve turned bashing UNC’s academic scandal into a hobby.

You wouldn’t do this to any other college graduate. It’s because he plays basketball.

***

Andrew Carter, a grown man in his 30s, was being mercilessly attacked on Inside Carolina message boards. He was called a “worthless troll,” an “idiot,” a “thin-skinned little weasel” and many things harsher. So he did what you and I would do — he defended himself. Of course, that only added fuel to the fire. The scorn users had for him grew more intense. Carter was berated and derided by the masses, a few even threatened physical harm.

This started because Carter, the UNC beat reporter for the News & Observer, wrote an article about how UNC’s 2014 football season was a disappointment. He was long hated before then, too, for contributing to some reports about the Tar Heels’ academic scandal. Hundreds of people constructed personal vendettas against him for doing his job.

This attitude isn’t confined to message boards, either. UNC fans tweet curse words and hate-filled messages at Carter daily. They think this is acceptable, because he writes about sports.

***

There’s a psychology theory out there called Group Polarization, which means a common belief is pushed to the extremes by groups. In such a setting, hate is formed against those who don’t sit at the same end of the spectrum. This leads to Deindividuation, which means individual members of a group act in a way they would otherwise not if they were alone. For instance, a sane person wouldn’t throw a bottle at another adult who was doing his job. But that didn’t stop a handful of NC State fans from throwing magazines, plastic bottles and boxes at referee Karl Hess, who did his job and made a correct call that resulted in an NC State loss to Wofford.

Fan bases, almost by definition, function under mob mentality.

And this is a problem. Sports fans act in antisocial ways. These same fans would never celebrate a job loss, ridicule a college graduation or spew unwarranted hatred toward another individual in a different setting. Social media make this phenomenon even worse — people who write things on Twitter and message boards probably wouldn’t say and do the things they write in person, but with a direct line toward these figures and a keyboard to hide behind, the floodgates have been opened.

Working in the sports industry, the first thing you come to realize is that you’re dealing with other people. People just like you, with families, relationships, good days, bad days and senses of humor. This is a discernment rarely made by people who grew up idolizing sports figures — and villainizing others — without any consideration for their personal lives. Fans often view sports personalities as characters — entities that are visible and elicit emotions, yet are detached from personal life and almost exist in imagination instead of reality.

And that’s not the case. They’re real. They eat in the same restaurants and watch the same TV shows as the rest of us.

Just because these people make a living in sports doesn’t give you permission to treat them like scum or mock them incessantly. It doesn’t matter that they make millions, or that they have what you perceive as a dream job. They’re still people, and they still deserve to be treated with human decency.

It’s OK to root for these people, root against them, love them or feel indifferent toward them. But there’s no excuse for vile interactions with players, coaches, referees, sportswriters or, Lord knows, high school recruits. That ole Golden Rule applies here, too. These people have never personally wronged you or hurt you. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to treat them like the people they are.

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