A witchhunt in Duckland

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It all began, as far as I could tell, at about mid-morning Saturday when Fecta23 tweeted there might be some not-so-good news coming soon in Duckland.

Well, that’s what I understand Fecta23 opined. I never actually saw the tweet. I am not one of his 135 followers. It was gone by the time I checked.

That tidbit was quickly picked up by Rivals.com analyst Tony DiFrancisco (with 1,709 followers on Twitter), who subsequently tweeted: “The rumor going around is just that, a rumor. Not NCAA related, has to do with a player possibly leaving.”

I did see that before it, too, was removed.

Darron Thomas leaves as Oregon's all-time leader in TD passes.

From there, the “news” spread like a Central Oregon brush fire as it was retweeted and then moved to message boards, fan sites and Facebook.

With all kinds of speculation and finger-pointing thrown in.

By 2 p.m., the Ducks had lost or were on the verge of losing (you pick ’em): Josh Huff, Darron Thomas, Bryan Bennett, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, Justin Hoffman, Tra Carson, Tacoi Sumler, Devon Blackmon, Dion Jordan, Ricky Heimuli, Kiko Alonso, Anthony Wallace, Michael Clay, Dior Mathis and John Boyett.

If I missed anyone, please accept my apologies.

Oh, and please stop.

As we all know now, this rumor had legs and at approximately 5:30 p.m. the UO officially announced that Duck star quarterback Darron Thomas was putting his name into the NFL Draft, a departure that knocks Oregon from the list of 2012-13 national championship contenders.

But by then, plenty of other damage had been done.

I use social media all the time. I love social media for its timeliness and for its edginess and for its frankness. Not to mention it’s ability to source and to build and manage relationships.

I hate social media when it’s used to further rumors that dial up mass speculation for hours on end.

The point here is not to throw cold water on athletes leaving. This is the time of year, after all, when top players get their draft analysis and think about a future in The League. It’s also when other players begin pondering who is ahead of them on the depth chart and who is slated to be part of the next recruiting class. Some don’t like that picture. And they leap to another college program.

No, the point here is to ask, What’s the point?

Without a name and without any certainty, nothing was gained and so much was lost on Saturday.

Within an hour of that first tweet and retweet, the personal attacks on Oregon players on several message boards had started.

Duck wide receiver Josh Huff, who caught 31 passes in an injury-marred season, was one of the early targets.

No one knew who the player was in question — or even if the rumor was true — but in the minds of some it had to be Huff.

Here’s one: “Huff has contributed very little to our program. If he doesn’t want to be a part of one of the best teams in the country and a title contender next year, then adios amigos!”

And this one: “He would get more touches if he could do two things: Stay healthy and catch the freaking passes that hit you in the stomach.”

Then the witchhunt — and for some it was — continued. It turned to a backup receiver. “Please be Will Murphy. Please be Will Murphy.” wrote one. Then it was on to some of the freshmen who redshirted. And backup sophomores.

Darron Thomas — who led the program to heights never enjoyed before — received his share of shots, too.

Eventually, a few sane Oregon fans called the posters out and pounced on the personal attacks. But the march to find the Duck player in question continued unabated.

Dior Mathis isn’t getting enough playing time so he’s moving on to Michigan State!

Tra Carson misses home and is already on the road back to Texas!

Kenjon Barner fooled everyone and really is headed to the NFL!

The most reassuring messages on social media during the day came not from the UO saying there was no truth to the player rumor — although that would have been a nice conclusion to the whole ordeal — but rather from Oregon football player Carson York and Register-Guard reporter Rob Moseley.

York was appropriately blunt: “People need to realize it’s pitiful and in no way OK to publicly condemn or be angry about life decisions made by a person they don’t know.”

When asked about the rumor, Moseley tweeted: “If I’ve got something for publication, rest assured, we’ll publish it.”

When pressed to identify the player, Moseley responded, “Not how I do my job, sorry. If we’ve got something solid and newsworthy to report, we’ll do so.”

Eventually, he did.

At least someone got it right.


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