UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky fans’ harassment of referee cited as example of worst effects of online trolling

Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins during last season’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina at Memphis, Tenn. Higgins was harassed online and at his place of business by angry fans after the game. Harassment included death threats and negative reviews of his business.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins during last season’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina at Memphis, Tenn. Higgins was harassed online and at his place of business by angry fans after the game. Harassment included death threats and negative reviews of his business. AP

For NCAA referee John Higgins, the firestorm of harassment he endured after the Kentucky-North Carolina game last year continues to affect his professional and personal life, according to an article posted online Thursday by Sports Illustrated.

The article “Inside the Dark World of Trolling” by Michael McKnight and Greg Bishop begins with the story of Higgins’ ordeal after Kentucky lost to North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA Tournament regional finals, and details how difficult it is to do anything to punish people who threatened his life and tried to ruin his business.

The article includes several not-safe-for-work instances of harassment of Higgins and other sports figures, and it attempts to track the harassers down for comments about their actions. While a few did respond, many declined. Some athletes feel attempting retribution toward their online attackers online gives them what they really crave: attention.

“In the end, the Higgins matter was a checklist of behaviors commonly associated with trolling, a nebulous, post-millennial word that refers generally to the anonymous sending of threats, insults or other harassment, usually online, from a distant remove,” the article says. “There were vicious Facebook messages: ‘You are a disgusting excuse for a sporting official.’ And tweets: ‘I will find you. Bitch.’ Fake reviews: ‘John personally came out to fix my roof . . . he hit on my 13-year-old son.’ And, ultimately, a call to retaliatory action: ‘The name of his company is rooferees.com,’ Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones told his listeners. ‘R-O-O-F-E-R-E-E-S dot com.’”

Higgins has sued Matt Jones and other parties connected to Kentucky Sports Radio for allegedly encouraging the harassment. The case has been moved to Kentucky. Jones has said the lawsuit has no merit.

Higgins told SI the lawsuit wasn’t about money. He said he wanted to stand up to “people who have no fear of anything happening to them when they do this.” Fans “threatened my family,” he told SI. “They knew my kids’ ages. They knew where they go to school.

“What if I did that to them? To their children?”

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