As the only time college ball supersedes professional sports, the NCAA Tournament bestows a maddening amount of attention on colleges. When lower-seeded teams pull off scintillating upsets, fans laud their perseverance, grit and character. When storied teams fall in early rounds, fans lament their mistakes, poor decisions and lack of heart. It takes little more than a few seconds — the time required for a buzzer beater — to change the storyline.
This suspense and unpredictability attract millions of fans to follow the tournament each year. Emotions packed into game-changing moments reel us in. The heartbreak of lost chances pulls at us.
But in recent weeks, the tournament isn’t the only college news making headlines. Joey Casselberry, who played first baseman for the Bloomsburg University baseball team through last week, changed his own storyline Friday night with a single tweet about the female Little Leaguer Mo’ne Davis.
“Disney is making a movie about Mo’ne Davis? WHAT A JOKE. That slut got rocked by Nevada,” he tweeted.
Trash-talking is nothing new in the worlds of social media and sports. Casselberry’s message, sans the slang, jabs more at Davis’ athletic ability than at her character or gender. But society doesn’t condone speaking derogatorily about women, much less a 13-year-old girl, in a public forum. On Saturday, Casselberry was promptly dismissed from the team.
(Davis later asked the university president to reinstate Casselberry since she “knows he worked hard to get where he is” and didn’t want him to ruin his dreams. No luck.)
Casselberry’s consequences are the latest in a series of college kids’ errors rocking national headlines. Including a videoed racist chant at OU and a Facebook group at Penn State with photos of nude women, social media accountability is surging rapidly. None of these three instances showed new phenomena in society — racism, nude photography and derogatory language — and yet each instance garnered much attention and will stunt the students’ futures. Why?
Higher education spans further than professional aspirations and academic competency. College campuses aim to foster diversity, broaden students’ horizons and — to borrow the motto of the Plan II Honors program in the College of Liberal Arts — enable students to make for themselves a life, not just a living. When students act counter to these goals, they face the consequences.
The rabble-rousing unfolding on college campuses in the past few weeks doesn’t suggest new trends so much as new accountability for old trends. As college students in the digital age, we must remember that technology enables others to watch at any time. Though 20-20 hindsight frames these instances as cases of stupidity or prejudice, each is more unique for its consequences than its initial actions. Sadly, such depravity trickles through all college campuses (and far beyond campuses), often without malicious intent. Lessons of morality and sensitivity abound. But another lesson lies beneath these scandals as well: humility.
College students have a penchant for strongly overestimating their capabilities, invincibility and sphere of influence. We’re simultaneously able to capitalize on campus opportunities and make poor decisions after hours, right?
Thinking twice (maybe three times) about the impact of our actions beyond our personal spheres is a crucial life lesson. Our storylines, and storylines of many others who are intertwined, can change irreversibly in no time. Let’s channel such moments and decisions in both life and on social media into positive outcomes — change people’s lives for the better instead.
Epstein is a Plan II and journalism senior from Dallas. Follow Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.