Rob Oller: Buckeyes' Liddell fights loud social-media hate with quiet correction

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell had 23 points and 14 rebounds last Friday against Oral Roberts, but he caught unwarranted grief from social-media trolls for his late mistakes that contributed to the Buckeyes' upset loss in the NCAA Tournament.

Having received racist and violent threats on social media following Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament loss to Oral Roberts last Friday, E.J. Liddell had every right to come out lobbing grenades and torching those anonymous cowards with a verbal flamethrower.

Instead, the Ohio State forward offered an olive branch

Oh, how we could learn from him.

So much yelling these days. So much. Casual conversations become caustic attacks. You voted for who? Consider this friendship over. So pervasive is the vitriol, veiled as passion, that seeing Liddell smiling Wednesday on a conference call was a counterintuitive surprise, especially considering the events that led him to participate in the online media session.

Liddell wanted to address the social media trolling that began within an hour of Friday’s stunning loss to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. In defeating the No. 2 Buckeyes 75-72 in overtime, the Golden Eagles pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

Liddell, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds, but also made costly mistakes near the end of regulation, reposted late Friday night on Twitter some of the sickening messages sent to his Instagram account.

The worst of them read: “Piece of (expletive). You managed to do it again. You were shooting a 1 and 1 to win the game lol. You are such a (expletive) disgrace. Don’t ever show your face at Ohio state. We hate you. I hope you die I really do.”

And: “You where u from? I’ll pull up on you immediately i swear to god I wanna kill you (expletive).”

Despicable, even for social media, and worthy of criminal investigation. Death threats demand immediate and serious action. Beyond that, join the club if you balled your fists reading them.  

But Liddell is not part of that club. Staring into the camera, the smiling sophomore sounded more like John Lennon than John Wayne. Give peace a chance. Make love, not war. We’re all human, even the Instagram idiots who don’t care if college athletes are human or not.

Make no mistake, the cruel comments irritated Liddell, even if they were nothing new. He said similar hate began showing up on his social media timeline when he was a senior at Belleville West High School near St. Louis. But Friday became the tipping point at which he no longer could remain quiet.

He was bothered, he said, “because I go out there and put a smile on my face every game. For people to feel so ill about me after a couple turnovers or a missed one-and-one free throw, it just doesn’t sit right. Because I have feelings, too. I just felt it was time to say something.”

To say. Not to scream.

“I just wanted to use my voice a little bit,” he said of agreeing to speak with local media. “I’ve been quiet about it … because I have pretty tough skin when it comes to criticism.” 

Rob Oller

Of course, it does not matter if skin is made of armor. No one should be subjected to such abuse. Yet rather than swing a sword at the faceless fomenters of hate, Liddell chooses to fight back with forgiveness and understanding. A revolutionary concept.

“People act out of emotion and just don’t think (athletes) probably see those types of messages, because they feel like we’re on a bigger platform than them,” he said. “They don’t even want a response. The problem is (posting) that is not OK, not only to athletes but to people in general.”

That’s as strong of a condemnation as you will get from Liddell, not because his emotions run shallow but because his heart runs deep. He loves people, and the message he wants sent to social-media haters and racists is that charity works better than condemnation.

That positive outlook explains why he is perplexed by anyone who would let a basketball loss lead them to losing their mind.  

“People know I’m not a mean person,” he said. “I walk out of the room every day just embracing life with a smile on my face.”

His critics should try it sometime. 

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD