Fan ... as in fanatic

There's an article in today's Knoxville News-Sentinel that is truly disturbing ... mostly because it makes us face a fact we'd rather ignore:

There are some sick puppies in The Vol Nation.

The News-Sentinel article quotes quarterback Jonathan Crompton admitting that he received death threats last season. Crompton didn't steal anyone's life savings or harm anyone's children. He didn't vandalize anyone's house or destroy anyone's car. His only offense was that he didn't create enough offense.

Because Crompton's quarterbacking didn't put enough points on the scoreboard and enough Ws in the won-lost record last fall, a few lunatic-fringe fans threatened his life.

Episodes such as this are a painful reminder that the word "fan" is derived from the word "fanatic."

Obviously, the vast majority of The Vol Nation consists of level-headed people who are passionate about winning but draw the line well short of issuing death threats. Still, the fact a few draw no line at all is alarming.

I was a sportswriter for The Knoxville Journal in 1983 when a pretty good Vol squad suffered a disappointing 13-10 loss to Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium. Leaving the field at game's end, UT quarterback Alan Cockrell was struck by a stadium seat hurled at him by an overzealous Big Orange fan (using the term loosely).

Naturally, I was disgusted. I would be even more disgusted a few years later.

By 1986 I had become The Journal's primary beat writer on Vol football. Mere days prior to my first game in that capacity, one of my Journal co-workers broke a story that several UT players had committed pass-list violations by selling complimentary game passes that were supposed to be given free of charge to relatives. The players incurred one-game suspensions.

Tennessee won the '86 opener without the suspended players but that didn't satisfy the lunatic-fringe element of the fan base. As a result, Journal employees received numerous death threats by phone and by mail.

One threat sticks with me to this day. The anonymous caller vowed to hide atop a nearby building, rifle in hand, and pick off our reporters one by one as we left work that evening.

Obviously, someone really planning to kill us wouldn't have warned us ... just as someone really planning to kill Jonathan Crompton wouldn't have warned him. The venom was merely an empty threat from someone who had lost touch with reality.

That doesn't make it any less chilling, though. And it doesn't make it any less appalling.

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