Twitter Warriors: Would Jen Bielema Want A Do-Over?

By Terry Waldrop
Brett Bielema
Beth Hall – USATODAY Sports

Jen Bielema is the wife of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who after a very successful run at Wisconsin traded in the cheese for a hog hat and became top Razorback this spring. This did not sit well with a small group of Badger fans and as with eighth grader with jilted feelings can tell you, the answer is always to lash out at the offending party with venom spewed barbs that would make Denis Leary blush. If, however, you can’t get a response from that guy, go after his family because they are much easier to get to. Twitter apparently helps with this tremendously.

Most coaches develop a thick skin and are accustomed to getting skewered in the press and even by random people periodically. It is part of the job and you tolerate it. The families are much easier targets for the people sitting in the stands and especially the Twitter warriors. It doesn’t help if you paint on your own bull’s-eye, however.

The most normal person can turn into a crazed and unrecognizable mad man spewing incoherent profanities when things are not right as he perceives them on his team’s ship. More advanced from the crude and sometimes vulgar remarks made in the stands directed toward coaches and their families are the insidious cloak and dagger Twitter warriors hard at work behind their social media command centers.

I don’t know Jen Bielema, but I can assure you that she knows the players at Wisconsin very well as they were a part of her extended family, and no doubt spent a lot of time with them over their six years in Madison. It goes with being a coaching family and the attachments and relationships to the players are real. Sitting with her husband watching the Wisconsin game, there is no doubt they were supporting the kids they recruited and knew. The bizarre and egregious ending of the game and resulting loss had to rock the Badgers and their faithful to their core.

Bielema’s tweet most certainly was a knee-jerk spontaneous reaction aimed at a small group of people who had taken shots at her family the last couple months. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time and her way of throwing some cow patties back at them. My guess is she regrets it, not for the Twitter warrior’s, but for the sake of the young men on the football team and their families who had to feel more than disappointed about her tweet. I would expect that situation has been addressed outside the public eye and away from Twitter Warrior nation and amends to the players, families and others close to the program have been extended.

Enter Jen Vrabel, wife of former New England Patriots star Mike Vrabel and current Ohio State assistant coach. Vrabel dove across the top rope and into the Twitter fray in true WrestleMania style after the Arkansas meltdown loss at Rutgers the following week. She tweets congratulations to future Big 10 rival Rutgers for knocking off the SEC Hogs. She finishes with the hash tag #karma.This instantly fires up the Wisconsin base, makes her a cult hero in Wisconsin and ignites a social media barb barrage across the country that involves Columbus to Madison to Arkansas. This was perhaps something that might have sounded good at the time, but upon further reflection is about as regrettable as the first tweet.

Bielema and Vrabel appear to be upstanding family women, and I know from personal experience the private family life of coaches and their families are more challenging than many would believe. Opening a door into your family through Twitter can give great insights into who you are and your beliefs. Unfortunately, if you leave that door open too wide and leave food out, trolls are attracted from everywhere and they tend to be messy and take no prisoners and don’ like to leave. I would speculate these two ladies will be closing that family door from now on, rising above this and leaving the Twitter trolls to devour one another as nature and the internet intended.

Terry Waldrop was a longtime collegiate basketball coach and athletic director.  Follow him on Twitter @terrywaldropFacebook and Google.

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