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Michigan punter’s miscue brings out the worst in people

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Quick question: How many know the name Blake O’Neill? For those who do not, here is a hint. In Ann Arbor, Mich., this young man has assumed a new middle name as of early Saturday evening.

Blake ****ing O’Neill. That is the mild stuff.

O’Neill is, of course, the Wolverines’ punter. He became an infamous celebrity when he mishandled a long snap, then turned the ball over to arch-rival Michigan State, who scored the winning touchdown as time expired.

Over the past 48 hours, O’Neill’s life has been a living hell. So-called Michigan “fans” want him dead. They said so. Publicly.

One Tweet from @JRonaloe said “kill urself, honestly im 10 years old and have been crying for 20 minutes, honestly kill yourself we easily won…” Expletives followed. Does the 10 years describe the true age or mental development?

Others stopped short of death threats, but spewed pure hatred. In this age of social media, some of these geniuses showed plenty of stupidity (likely mixed with alcohol) in the way they shared their feelings.

A Tweet from @jaaake_f1 says O’Neill should “jump off a cliff into a pool of spikes and cyanide.” Another from @SeanKenzel sums up his feelings distinctly: “I hate you. I. Hate. You.”

Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh talked about his football program moving forward after such a major disappointment. His postgame comments resembled a politician staying on message with his talking points.

“Steel in our spine,” was often the coach’s answer to questions that sometimes called for other answers. That’s his prerogative.

His response to a question about O’Neill and “the play” did not contain a steel-in-the-spine reference, but should have. O’Neill, a native of Australia, is a tough guy as Aussie athletes tend to be. He may already possess a heavy metal backbone.

Harbaugh said “mistakes were made not fielding (the snap) cleanly, and then he bobbled it a few times, he should have just fell on it, so mistakes were made.” The coach is doing a fantastic job restoring the Michigan program, but he fumbled with this response.

First, O’Neill was in the mindset that all he had to do is get the punt away and Michigan wins. No matter what and despite an all-out rush, get the punt away! But yes, falling on the ball would have given Michigan State only a “Hail Mary” chance at winning.

When he bobbled the snap, O’Neill was in scramble mode, but still committed to carrying out his responsibility of getting the ball down the field. Things just didn’t work out. In that split second, falling on the ball did not overrule getting the punt away.

Ironically, O’Neill had a stellar day otherwise. He continually maintained field position for the Wolverines with strong punts and actually had an 80-yard punt in the first quarter. His coach might have mentioned that after the game to help a devastated young football player.

How tough is O’Neill? He once suffered a split liver playing Australian Rules football, so his toughness should not be questioned.

His mishap will not be forgotten, but he will get through this. He has the chance to show fans, and apparently his coach, he has the requisite amount of steel.

Fortunately, Michigan does not play again until October 31. Its next home game is November 7. That should be enough time to get things calmed down among the crazies.

Those with some intelligence are standing up for O’Neill and fighting back against the haters on social media. Good for them. Free speech goes both ways.

In the meantime, think a few good thoughts about Blake O’Neill and his parents. His Twitter handle is @blakewoneill.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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