Good evening, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) sports fans. Hope all is well in your world.
If you haven’t heard, right after Kentucky lost to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, one of the referees in the game, John Higgins, got harassed by some really terrible Big Blue Nation fans.
We’ve really seen a new low in sportsmanship (h/t @3NewsOmahaNow):
And Omaha referee, John Higgins, is now beginning to put his life back together (h/t @OWHNews):
John Higgins told himself that it was just a basketball game and that he had a job to do, just as he’s done thousands of times before.
But it wasn’t easy walking out on the court Saturday to officiate the Gonzaga-South Carolina Final Four contest.
Not after thousands of phone calls, emails and Facebook postings from disgruntled Kentucky fans disrupted his roofing business and frightened his family and employees.
It scared him, too.
“I knew the eyes and cameras would be on me because of the national exposure and situation,” Higgins said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to quit because of this — it’s too much pressure, it’s too hard.’ We got through it, and I thought we did a good job. I’ve got seven months to think about next year.”That was Higgins’ final game until next season. But there will be no vacation. He has a company to put back together.
Business at Weatherguard Inc., has become somewhat more normal since phone calls with a Kentucky area code were blocked. Little business got done last week after around 25,000 contacts were made through social media after Higgins officiated the Kentucky-North Carolina game, which the Wildcats lost by two points.
He’s still dealing with the fallout from those thousands of negative emails and phone calls and the reviews on Weatherguard’s Facebook page that dropped its rating from 4.8 to 1.2. It’s back up to 3.0, but that’s still not good when weighed against the competition, Higgins said.
False reports were even filed with the Better Business Bureau, using names such as Adolph Rupp, the legendary former Kentucky coach, and Calipari John, a reversal of the current Kentucky coach’s name.
Company officials started getting notifications about a half hour after the Elite Eight game. By Monday morning, it was a flood.
Weatherguard has three lines, and they rang nonstop. Higgins said some people called 40 to 50 times a day.
His home and company address were shared publicly, so the Omaha Police Department and the FBI were notified. OPD gave both special attention.
After the situation became public, media outlets from across the country called for interviews. One even offered $10,000.
Officials from all levels of the game started contacting Higgins, too. They’re used to screaming fans, but this was new.They were scared, too.
They wanted to know how they would handle this new wave of criticism, which Higgins attributes to social media.
“Nobody has ever seen anything like this,” Higgins said. “This is crazy.”
Higgins got lots of support — from people in the Cathedral area where he grew up, people who contacted members of his large family and also the college coaches who reached out. Calipari did not.
But it’s changed him. He’s a little more guarded in the aftermath.
“You lose a little faith in people,” he said.
Last week hurt. Still, Higgins said both he and his business will be OK. It will just take some time.
I’m sure some of these Kentucky fans thought this was the end – no one would look into their conduct. Not so (from the @AP):
Investigator working full-time on hundreds of threats against official in Kentucky-North Carolina tournament game https://t.co/hkeAiUeGCf
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) April 6, 2017
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An investigator for a Nebraska law enforcement agency said Wednesday he is reviewing hundreds of confirmed or possible threats against an Omaha basketball official who worked Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina.
Matt Barrall of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department said he was in his fifth day working full-time on the case, and no end was in sight.
“We are taking this very, very — extremely — seriously,” Barrall said. “Some people might say, ‘Oh, it’s just a basketball game.’ But what if some mentally unstable person decides this is the way to make a name for himself?”Referee John Higgins’ roofing company was inundated with harassing emails, phone calls and voice mails — including death threats against Higgins and his family — starting shortly after Kentucky’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina on March 26. Kentucky coach John Calipari criticized the officiating during his postgame news conference.
Barrall said he has identified 450 phone calls or messages and another 200-300 messages on social media or in emails that were “of a threatening nature.”
Some of those met the criteria to be considered terroristic threats under Nebraska law. Barrall said he wouldn’t disclose how many until after he reviews all the messages. Under Nebraska law, making terroristic threats is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
About 3,000 phone calls came into Higgins’ office in the two days after the game, Barrall said. He estimated 75 percent were from Kentucky area codes.
Higgins’ business also received a flood of bogus negative online reviews, causing his Google rating to plummet. Higgins’ website got more than 28,000 hits in the days after the game, and he was forced to take his business’ Facebook page down.
Barrall said he also has been listening to about five hours of audio from Kentucky sports radio shows with an ear for threatening comments toward Higgins, whether by hosts or callers. Barrall also continues to monitor Kentucky fan websites.
Barrall said he suspected a video showing contact information for Higgins and posted on fan websites sparked the harassment. That video has been removed, he said.
“There is a lot of mass anonymity once something like that goes viral,” Barrall said. “People that on their own wouldn’t do something, their social values change when a lot of other people do it, and they decide to join in. This is the 21st-century version of a mob mentality because of social media.”
The next phase of the investigation likely would require subpoenas to be issued for phone and other records of those suspected of making terroristic threats.
Let me tell you something – law enforcement agencies in the Upper Midwest will hold you accountable (I’m from the Upper Midwest) – Nebraska police are as tough as they come. It’s pretty serious when both the local law enforcement agencies – and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are on the Higgins case.
What’s interesting is that the guy that was treated the worst in this here in this series of incidents – is the most mature (and he has every right to be very publicly upset – and if I were him, I’d be looking for cash payday to sue some of these fans). But here’s what Higgins told the @AP:
He told Omaha radio station KFAB on Wednesday that he initially was wary of working the Final Four game between Gonzaga and South Carolina on Saturday and that his wife has talked to him about giving up officiating. He said he wouldn’t let fans who act inappropriately get the best of him.
“I’ll continue it. It’s fun. I’m competitive,” he said. “I’ll be fine going forward.”
And here’s what Higgins told @OWHNews:
“At the end of the day, it’s a basketball game,” he said. “It does not affect anyone’s life.”
Higgins nails it (everyone can learn from him). God bless him.