Former WJZ-FM radio sportscaster Jen Royle was in the news Tuesday after my colleague Jill Rosen wrote on her Baltimore Insider blog about the long-distance warfare Royle still was engaged in on social media with some Baltimore sports fans six months after moving back to her hometown of Boston. (Read the Baltimore Insider blog post here.)
I had interviewed Royle several times during her days in Baltimore, and she called me later in the day to respond to her critics here who appeared to be having a very active day on social media.
"Just write this," she said, "I have tough skin. I'm as tough as they come. I will never back down from an argument. But there is a moment where the line is crossed, and it's just been crossed too many times from Baltimore fans, and I will never understand it. And even though I'm tough, it has ripped the soul out of me. Enough is enough."
Royle insists she didn't start the back and forth. According to her, any negative tweets on her part were in reaction to what was said on social media by people in Baltimore about her in recent months.
"I never said any of this stuff first," she said. "My friends were like, 'Hey, I really hate to tell you this, but there's this hashtag 'curse of Jen Royle' all over Twitter. They're blaming you for the reason why the Orioles are doing so well.'"
The thrust of "the curse" traffic: The Orioles are now a winning team because Royle left town.
"OK. let me ask you this: I'm the curse?" She asked rhetorically. "They were bad before I got there. It's not like they were only bad for the two years I worked there. I mean, I worked in New York for seven years, and I've covered every team in baseball and the Ravens, and I have never gotten hate from any other city except for Baltimore."
Royle sent copies Wednesday of hate tweets from the past few months saying among other things that she was dying of AIDS. (For the record, she said that is false.) Royle's Baltimore attorney managed to stop the AIDS tweets, she said. Furthermore, she added, that she has received a letter of apology through her attorney from an author of such tweets.
But the level of hatred in some of the other tweets is literally sickening. One person tweets about wanting to "punch" her "in the mouth." Another tweets of doing more graphic bodily harm to her.
As much as I am at a point in my career where I don't want to spend the 12-hour days I'm working refereeing Twitter fights among female sportscasters and mixed-up angry young men, there is a deeper issue here about the kinds of horrible and false things that are now said publicly and regularly in our culture thanks to social media.
This is complicated stuff, and after 18 years on teaching media ethics in college and 30 years of trying to practice them in the newsroom, I admit that I don't have a satisfactory answer to the kind of mean-spiritedness, slander, libel and hate that pollutes social media.
In terms of balance, it must be said that Royle is hardly a passive victim. As I have written before, she is savvy as anyone I have seen come through Baltimore in her use of social media to build a following.
"I think it's shocking that sports fans make things personal," Royle said. "I don't think that these fans understand that my family reads these tweets, and it's feeding the negative monster of social media. All of these people who say these negative things about me never met or have spoken me. I've even offered to take everybody who hates me out for beers to see if their opinion changes in two hours. And nobody wanted to do it."
Royle said she made the offer when she was still in Baltimore as a "kind of case study" to see if people had the same opinion of her after they met and talked to her.
"I mean, people in Baltimore act like I murdered their children," she added. "All I did was analyze their baseball team, which at the time was not very good. I left Baltimore for greener pastures, and now I'm 'the curse' and 'I'm dying of AIDS?' If anyone in America can tell me that's fair, I'd be shocked."
Royle also announced a new job in Boston Tuesday: writing a weekly column about Boston sports for boston.sbnation.com.