We’ve seen how brutal football fans can be toward the players they claim to support faithfully, and it seems like kickers take more lumps than other players do. The latest example of this phenomenon is Blair Walsh, the Minnesota Vikings kicker who missed a potentially game-winning 27-yard field goal in the Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
After the game, Walsh was teary-eyed but honest about what went wrong.
“You’re confident, but you never think that you have it or take it for granted,” Walsh said, subdued with glassy eyes in the locker room afterward. “I just didn’t put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody’s standards.”
Never mind that Walsh scored the rest of the Seahawks’ points throughout the rest of the game. Never mind that holder Jeff Locke held part of the blame for failing to turn the laces of the ball out, a move that can help a kicker’s accuracy. Walsh became the scapegoat, and social media was particularly ugly toward him.
Blair Walsh in the locker room pic.twitter.com/3fOARiZIyJ
— BLACK ADAM SCHEFTER (@B1ackSchefter) January 10, 2016
Blair Walsh is kicking himself right now. Just kidding, he missed.
— Benton C. Olson (@Bentono10) January 10, 2016
And those were just the most tasteful ones.
There’s a nice side note to this story: a class of first graders at Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine, MN, wrote Walsh notes to cheer him up. He visited the students later in the week to express his gratitude.
As he stood before the students in dark jeans and a fitted gray T-shirt, he thanked them. “It was very touching to me. … A lot of [the cards] were very pretty and creative. … I will cherish them forever,” he said.
The kicker can be the hero when a last-second field goal seals a victory, but more often they seem to bear the brunt of fans’ anger over misses that mark the difference between a win and a loss.
Why do kickers seem to be especially such targets of anger? I reached out to Rex Robinson, legendary University of Georgia kicker—who kicked on the 1980 championship team—for his thoughts. Robinson agrees that kickers often deal with more scrutiny than other players.
“I have felt for long time that kickers receive much more criticism despite playing at such a high level that rules have been changed repeatedly to decrease their impact on the game,” he said. “But because they have so few chances in any particular game, their ‘mistakes’ are amplified.”
How much of this phenomenon is a product of our social media culture? I asked Robinson, who coaches young kickers and helps businesses in the Atlanta area with social media strategies, if the case of Blair Walsh demonstrates that social media has made it more difficult to deal with a bad performance.
“It depends on how much involvement a player has on social media,” he said. “Most athletes these days have grown up with a social media involvement and if they are playing on the college or pro level, they hopefully have developed a thick skin. Occasionally you’ll hear about someone giving in to the temptation to respond to a troll. Obviously it’s best to ignore people hiding behind a computer.”
Walsh, for his part, understood that social media users can be cruel.
“You know what, the people who are saying that stuff are the people who don’t matter,” he said. “There’s so many great Vikings fans and there’s so many great people in this city that care about Minnesota and understand all the situations that we’re in and you know, the people who are going to say mean stuff, that says a lot about them. And I think the people who say kind stuff, and go out of their way to be kind towards me, that says a lot about them, as well.”
“People kind of show their true colors in situations like that and a lot of people reached out to me, said nice things. And I’m very appreciative of that. I really am. It means a lot. But I think it’s important that people understand, as hard as this is, I’m not a charity case. I’m somebody that’s really confident in my abilities. I know that sounds strange but I’ll be back next year and I’ll be just as good.”
In the end, Robinson doesn’t believe that the attacks will affect Walsh’s confidence.
“Blair had a difficult stretch his senior year at Georgia, and has been really, really strong as a pro,” he said. “I don’t think his confidence will be affected.”