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Cat love is stronger than Bills hate

At some point last Thursday morning, we realized that one of our two cats had gone missing. If you’re a pet owner, you likely know this feeling – or you can imagine it. You’re basically frantically searching through every deck and garage in your neighborhood while running a social media campaign worthy of the drop of a new Taylor Swift single. And before I bury the lead, yes, we did find George the cat, ending up 48 hours later hiding in the springs of a couch we had put in our garage. But in that run, what you realize is there are lots and lots of people, most who you’ve never met, who care deeply about your pet and hoping your find him. In other words, despite the perception of a highly divided and angry public, we all can coalesce around our collective love of cats. 

That seems to be a sentiment towards Buffalo Bills kicker Tyler Bass. Assuming you didn’t know Tyler Bass before, you may know him now as the guy who missed the field goal wide right in the 4th quarter of last weekend’s playoff game against Kansas City that essentially sealed their loss and end of the season. And as you can imagine, especially given Buffalo’s playoff history and general fan fervency, he then received an inordinate amount of vitriolic hate messages and threats on social media, so much that he needed to quickly deactivate his accounts. But Tyler may have the one ally stronger than the Bills mafia, as their called. He has the cat lovers community on his side. That’s because Tyler recently participated in a campaign for Show Your Soft Side, a non-profit focused on reducing animal cruelty. And while most athletes chose to do ads for dogs, Tyler focused his efforts on cats, which for the record are definitely harder to work with on set. So when Tyler Bass was getting beat up online by a bunch of losers who need a reality check on life, the folks at Show Your Soft Side came to his defense. They not only told everyone to lay off their friend, but also recommended people donate $22 to the cat adoption organization Ten Lives Club to show their support – Tyler’s number is 2. And as of Tuesday night, that’s led to over $180,000 of donations – and still counting.

Before I go any further, I just need to point out that I also have a dog and am fully agnostic in my support of four legged pets. I refuse to be a part of the age-old dogs vs cats debate, and I believe in a big tent philosophy of animals in the house. But this story of Tyler Bass is fairly illuminating, both in our understanding of sports fanaticism as well as the power of social media to drive movements and create community. It sadly is not all that surprising that Tyler Bass received threats because he missed a critical field goal at the end of a playoff game. This has been standard fare for generations – just ask Bill Buckner. The only difference now is that because of social, the vitriol is more immediate and personal. And not for nothing, but there is no one that feels worse and cares more about that field goal than Tyler Bass. I’d be out of my lane in contemplating whether this vitriol has gotten worse through the unbridling and enabling of expressive hate in our current political climate, where we’re nearly encouraged to threaten people online and in person. But honestly, it’s also possible that sports fans have always been there, and politics is simply now catching up.

But from a more positive perspective, the outpouring of donations – and realize donating money is far more active and engaged than simply typing hate speech – reminds us that there are likely a whole lot more people that recognize the humanity of sport and its participants than those who choose to denigrate it. Given a moment to reflect, a bunch of people voted with their pocketbook to recognize that Tyler Bass, while the person that did cost the Bills a win, didn’t deserve to be dehumanized. And moreover, that there may in fact be things more important than the outcome of a game. Especially if that thing is cute little cats that need a home.

Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to adopt one right now. Thankfully as of early Saturday morning, we already have two.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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