MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers football players enjoyed intercepting three passes from Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in a 31-26 win Nov. 9. The last pick sealed an upset of the then-fourth-ranked Nittany Lions and uncorked a celebration throughout TCF Bank Stadium.
But that joyous scene had startling ramifications for Clifford. The sophomore revealed Tuesday, Nov. 19, that he received death threats from fans on social media after that game, which ended Penn State’s perfect season and wounded their Big Ten and College Football Playoff chances.
Gophers players and coach P.J. Fleck abhorred what happened to Clifford this week.
Senior linebacker Thomas Barber said, “At the end of the day, we’re brothers.” That’s when defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway walked by, was looped into the topic and added his own disgust.
Gophers players can sympathize with Clifford because they, too, have received personal criticism through social media. But it doesn’t appear to have risen to the level of death threats.
Clifford said he usually removes the apps on his phone as a game approaches.
“It gets a little crazy,” he told reporters in State College, Pa. “I was kind of, I guess, sick and tired of getting death threats and some pretty explicit and pretty tough-to-read messages.”
Clifford has since reactivated his Twitter and Instagram accounts, and Penn State police have been made aware of Clifford’s allegations.
“I don’t know where we are as a society; it’s concerning,” Penn State coach James Franklin said in his news conference Tuesday. “We’re 9-1. We’re ranked in the top 10, I think — have had a pretty good year based on most people’s standards. Sometimes you go on social media and you wouldn’t feel that way.”
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has referred to Twitter as the “bully board.”
“People can have no name, no face, and say exactly what they want with no accountability,” Fleck said Tuesday. “I just don’t understand how our world’s that way. … I don’t know how somebody can do that. It’s pretty pathetic.”
Fleck questioned whether our laws are up to speed on online harassment.
“If you did that to somebody face-to-face, and you told somebody you were going to do that face-to-face and they filed a police report, (officers) follow up on that,” Fleck said. “How is Twitter any different? I just don’t know if our laws have caught up to our social media.”
The Minnesota Legislature enacted the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act in 2014, which addresses “cyberbullying” but only in the K-12 setting. The University of Minnesota has codes of conduct that address bullying and other threats, but that is only enforceable up to a point.
Gophers receivers coach Matt Simon said the staff tries to put football into perspective in players’ lives. “It’s what you do, it’s not who you are,” he said.
“People don’t really know what they go through on a daily basis,” Simon said. “We talk all the time: How many of your family members or close friends would be able to live the life that you do? How many of the people that criticize you would be able to wake up at 6 a.m. to come in to lift, practice, go to school, come back and go to study hall and come back and study film? Wake up the next morning and do it all over again, every single day?”
There is another saying within the Gophers’ Larson Football Performance Center, Simon said.
“We say, ‘Everyone is entitled to their opinion, not everyone is entitled to have their opinion valued.’”