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CHAD FINN I SPORTS MEDIA

Twitter trolls meet their match in Schilling, Maple Leafs

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling went after Twitter trolls after comments were made about his daughter.
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling went after Twitter trolls after comments were made about his daughter.TONY GUTIERREZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Twitter was founded nine years ago this month, on March 21, 2006, to be exact. Presumably, the first Twitter troll was hatched from the egg no later than March 22, probably with a typo-laden taunt to one of the founders that hashtags are #stoopid and MySpace is where all the cool kids on the Internet hang out.

Hey, it could have happened that way. After this week in the world of Twitter, which has to be among the most bizarre in the microblogging platform’s existence, anything seems possible in 140 characters or fewer. Most notable was the threat of violence from ISIS against Twitter’s founders for removing more than 2,000 user accounts related to the extremist militia’s recruitment efforts.

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Over here in the relative shelter of our sports prism, other real-world troubles seeped through Twitter’s ceiling. ESPN analyst and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling fired up his 38 Pitches blog and set the phasers to blast on a pack of particularly rancid trolls who replied to Schilling’s proud-dad tweet about his 17-year-old daughter’s college choice with the most vile responses their underdeveloped, puerile brains could muster.

Schilling can be self-aggrandizing, but in this case his social media vigilantism, which included revealing the identities of some of the trolls, was the kind of comeuppance that isn’t delivered often enough.

But the strangest Twitter-related tale of the last few days involved a left wing, a defenseman, and the latter’s actress wife. Canadian sports powerhouse TSN had to issue a public apology when viewer Anthony Adragna’s salacious tweet about Maple Leafs players Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf and Phaneuf’s wife, Elisha Cuthbert, was broadcast on the network during its trade deadline programming Monday.

A lawyer representing Lupul, Phaneuf, and Cuthbert issued a statement demanding a formal apology and that the network pay “a significant amount of damages to each of our clients for broadcasting a false and defamatory tweet.”

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They got the apology later Tuesday evening when Sportscentre anchor James Duthie read a 28-second statement that had been posted earlier on the network’s website.

“There was no basis for the false allegation made in this tweet,’’ said Duthie. “TSN unreservedly apologizes to Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, and Elisha Cuthbert and regrets any embarrassment this unfortunate incident has caused to them.”

We’ll soon learn if the apology prevents pursuit of that “significant amount of damages.” But Lupul had previously made his feelings about the situation known not with a statement but – naturally – a few words via his Twitter account.

The Lupul/Phaneuf/Cuthbert gossip — if it even qualifies as that — is entertaining in a cheap, disposable way to fans and viewers. But the reminder that those in the public eye are actual human beings trying to navigate through daily life just as we are is required more often than it should be.

It’s hard to fathom for those of us who aren’t rich or famous, but as Lupul and Phaneuf have discovered lately, the tradeoff of having your private life — especially unwarranted rumors — dragged out and broadcasted to the public can make for a hellish existence.

It’s easy for those of us peeking through the curtains to snicker at the rumors. Maybe it’s even irresistible, though it should be noted that the conventional Chicago media conducted themselves with admirable discretion amid salacious rumors that Blackhawks star Patrick Sharp had committed personal transgressions that would be considered unforgivable in most locker rooms.

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While the irresistible joke is to wonder whether every talented NHL left wing conducts himself among his teammates like Henri, the French lothario on “Cheers” who repeatedly taunted Woody with the line, “I’m going to steal your girlfriend!” the reality is that such rumors should permanently reside on the message boards in the back rooms of the Internet. Sharp has categorically denied the rumors. Eluding them will be much more difficult.

If there’s any minuscule benefit from any of this, it’s probably this: TSN viewers will be spared from watching further Twitter inanities pop up on their television screens. TSN and Bell Media Sports director of communications Greg McIsaac said the network will not comment any further on Monday’s “tweet issue” but acknowledged that it will no longer include tweets during its live broadcast.

Since TSN is regarded as the ESPN of Canada, I was curious how the actual ESPN of the United States, which frequently features a Twitter scroll on programs such as “SportsCenter,” screens and moderates what shows up on the screen. According to Josh Krulewitz, vice president of communications at ESPN, every tweet is “vetted by someone on the production team prior to appearing on air.”

That’s also a responsible approach. But TSN’s approach is probably better, for that aforementioned reason: The value of including tweets on a TV broadcast is negligible at best.

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If I want to hear what other people have to say, I’ll turn on a second screen and check my own Twitter feed.

By following who you want, you choose the patrons. You must supply your own beverages. And bouncers such as Schilling are always in demand.