Here we go again.
In a long-standing tradition that dates back to former head coach Bill Curry, nebulous claims of “death threats” are being whispered in an effort to deflect attention from reality and unfairly tarnish Auburn fans.
Convicted tree poisoner and rabid Alabama fan Harvey Updyke was previously scheduled to appear at a charity event in Mobile organized and promoted by TJ Hodges, an Alabama fan from Chicago, and Dee Dee Bonner, mother of former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.
The announcement of Updyke’s participation drew a predictably negative response, something we are flabbergasted that Bonner and Hodges failed to anticipate.
The pair did the right thing yesterday by electing to remove him from the event, but their reasoning and explanation for the removal was just as insulting as their initial decision to invite the convicted criminal.
Rather than accepting responsibility for their own poor decision, Hodges and Bonner instead attempted to demonize those who objected to his appearance.
What would be wrong with Hodges or Bonner acknowledging that inviting Updyke was a bad idea and apologizing to the thousands of people offended by their choice?
We got no apology. Instead we got vilification.
Bonner claimed to have received “death threats” on social media. Her claim was never verified and no such threats have been found. We looked. So did numerous others. The Internet has been scoured searching for any evidence of threatening interaction between objectors and Bonner or her family. There is none to be found.
The lack of any evidence to prove her claims hasn’t stopped national media from running with them as if they were fact.
ESPN staffer Mark Slabach started the baseless rumor by asserting it as fact in a story posted on ESPN.com.
Former Tuscaloosa News reporter Chris Walsh repeated the unsubstantiated claims on the Saturday Down South site.
Within hours, Slabach’s bogus story mushroomed across the sports world. By mid morning, CBS Sports reported that ESPN reported, essentially taking a bogus assertion and establishing it as fact.
The truth ceases to matter as the meritless story spreads.
Just to repeat what you won’t hear anywhere but here? The alleged “death threats” do not appear to exist.
It’s the second time Bonner and her family have made such claims without any credible evidence to back it up. McCarron expressed concern for the safety of his then-fiancé Katherine Webb at the 2013 Iron Bowl in a story that was repeated around the globe. No tangible reason for such fear existed. There were no threats, nothing to justify concern. That didn’t keep the story from painting Auburn supporters as a pack of out-of-control fanatics liable to come unhinged at a moment’s notice.
For his part, Hodges also refused to apologize. After first telling those who objected to Updyke’s appearance that the charity “didn’t care about their opinions,” Hodges then complained “We didn’t think people would prioritize what he (Updyke) did over people saving lives.”
That response shows a complete lack of sensitivity.
The pattern of smearing Auburn with vague and unverifiable rumor has a lengthy tradition in the Alabama media.
From Alan Evans’ never proven “boycott” and “death” threats that were paraded as fact, to the entire spectrum of ridiculous Cam Newton theories all the way back to Bill Curry’s after-the-fact claim that players received death threat phone calls prior to the 1989 Iron Bowl, it’s a time-honored tradition to obscure failures and faux pas by trying to paint Auburn fans as the crazy ones.
It would have been such a simple thing for Bonner and/or Hodges to say they were sorry for not understanding and for unintentionally offending so many of us.
Instead they turned to the tired old tactic of demonizing Auburn fans. An admission of a lapse in judgment would have gone a long way toward healing the rift and drawing a positive and sympathetic response to their worthy cause. None was forthcoming.
And we’re supposedly the ones who can’t put the rivalry aside? Wrong again. Reality speaks louder than rumor.