Athletes are people, too

Mike Thibault has watched players sob in front of him after telling them they've been cut.

"I hate it," the Connecticut Sun coach said. "It's the worst part of the job. You're telling people that they have to go find a new job somewhere else. Nobody wants to do that.

"You are messing with somebody's life. … I don't look forward to it. I don't sleep."

Three weeks ago, Thibault had to pare his roster to the WNBA-mandated 11-player limit.

Thibault opted to keep veteran forward Kerri Gardin over undrafted rookie post Stephanie Murphy as the 11th player.

A fan anonymously railed on a message board that Gardin wasn't cut. Another had hoped she would be waived. Another wondered why she was employed.

They hoped Gardin would lose her job.

Take a moment and roll that around your brain.

"There are a lot of people who'd like to have an all-star roster and you're 11th player is a great, star player," Thibault said, "but you're not playing that person. That person often, if they're that kind of star, gets frustrated in that role.

"Kerri understood that her contributions were going to vary, but they were always consistent - that there was a daily commitment to practicing hard, that there was a daily commitment to making (teammates) Kelsey (Griffin) or Asjha (Jones) or somebody better. And that's what a team is. A team is not a collection of 11 individuals who go their own ways and do different things."

Calling for a player or coach to lose their job is nothing new in sports. Those opinions are expressed every day on talk radio or the Internet.

In the case of Gardin, she was a reserve who wasn't guaranteed a seven-figure deal. Best guess was she was making close to $40,000, given her spot on the roster (the WNBA has more modest salaries than other pro sports).

Imagine, then, if people swarmed to message boards, radio or Twitter to rage that you needed to lose your $40,000-a-year job.

Gardin's detractors got their wish on June 3 when she was waived to make room for post Jessica Moore. She was upset when Thibault gave her the news. He was upset, too.

"She was loved as a teammate," Thibault said. "It was one of the hardest cuts."

Teammate Tan White said, "Competing and challenging everybody on the team to get better, she did a good job with that. To see her go, it hurt because me and her were kind of close."

Talk radio, the Internet and Twitter aren't bad. They've given everyone a voice. They've allowed us to communicate faster.

Those mediums have also contributed to giving faceless - and often nameless - people the opportunity to say awful things without fear of repercussions. Or getting punched in the face.

It's baffling that someone would have the compulsion to proclaim every fool opinion they had to the entire world.

(Remember when you only expressed your opinions to, you know, people you knew well and saw in person?)

Sure, the media and entertainment industry is littered with jerks, but here's the thing - if a reporter rips a player, his or her name (and often picture) is attached to the story. In most cases, the reporter has to deal with that player on a daily basis.

If an entertainer rips someone, they can't hide.

Talk radio, the Internet and Twitter have allowed people to be cowards.

It's easy to savage someone when no one can identify you.

The next time you feel compelled to blast someone on talk radio, give your full name and your address. Or, if you post on a message board, use your real name, email address and attach your photo.

Here's betting you won't. Because it requires guts. Moreover, most people are too thin-skinned and wouldn't dare put themselves in a position where they'd be targeted.

Yes, sports are the ultimate in performance-based employment, but why did it become acceptable behavior to berate someone for everyone to hear and read?

The Washington Mystics signed Gardin six days later. She played later that night in Atlanta and was a defensive spark in her new team's 98-90 overtime win.

More importantly, Gardin got another job.

Pfizer gutted 1,100 jobs locally in February.

Up to 71 teachers may be laid off in Norwich.

Boeing said last week that it needed to cut 225 jobs in Wichita, Kansas.

Anyone want to celebrate that?

This the opinion of Ned Griffen, who covers the Connecticut Sun for The Day.

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