Yesterday's story about a 17-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins fan being questioned by police after a message board death threat against Alexander Ovechkin(notes) was the second story on the local NBC affiliate's 11 p.m. news in D.C. It was prominently featured on SportsCenter. It generated headlines like "Fan threatens to kill Ovechkin."
It's also receiving a backlash.
The fact is that this fan made the threat during a Game 2 thread on the Penguins' official boards -- on Page 58, no less. The Capitals' official message board had a (since removed) thread about the death threat, asking how authorities should be contacted and the best way to bring this Internet message board posting to light. And it worked.
The argument could be made that this threat would have never been investigated had it not been for the alarm sounded by Web-savvy Capitals fans. Because of that catalyst, The Pensblog labels this affair as a waste of time and resources, going as far as to say that it could be a diversionary tactic from the Capitals. Bootlegger Sports, a general sports blog, ran a post with the headline "The NHL Doesn't Really Get the Internet."
There does seem to be some overstatement of the threat in the media. For example:
Threat via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I'm killing Ovechkin. I'll go to jail. I don't care anymore."
Actual threat on the Penguins message board: "Im killing Ovechkin i'll go to jail i dont care anymore."
Does one read a wee bit more methodical and ominous than the other?
In speaking with an another editor here about the Ovechkin death threat situation, he said there didn't seem to be any "there" there when the details were made public -- a kind way of saying the story's overblown. And we've seen that reaction from a number of fans who've emailed us and wondered if this was an investigation forced by an overreactive fan base rather than anything tangible.
But we stand by what we said yesterday: You just can't take these things lightly any more, no matter how benign they might seem within context. Not when school shooters are literally calling their shots on Facebook.
We're not advocating a child getting sent to shock therapy for drawing a gun in second grade. But as someone who worked in a community rattled to the core from the Virginia Tech shooting, every threat should have merit until it's determined that it doesn't. You can't fault anyone for looking into this.