by Mary Kate Wirfel
On June 30, 2017, I decided to post my opinion on Facebook about a trade made by the Buffalo Sabres. That day, I discovered how rude and discriminating Sabres fans truly can be and how difficult it is to deal with the organization.
Since I was young, I have enjoyed watching professional sports. When I was in middle school, I really got into watching hockey, mainly the National Hockey League. Considering my father is from Pittsburgh and my mother was born and raised in Buffalo, the two teams I followed were the Pittsburgh Penguins and, of course, the Buffalo Sabres.
Social Media Backlash
When I started using social media, I wanted to share what teams and athletes I supported and strongly disliked. Immediately, people started to judge my likes and interests. People would say things like, “Oh, you’re a girl you only think the player is attractive.” Another comment a man wrote was, “You’re just a stupid little girl who wanted to marry him [a player] someday.” This was a reaction to a simple comment I made suggesting the Sabres not trade specific players that I enjoyed watching. I was only giving my opinion, however; this was just the beginning of the nasty comments.
The Sabres traded the two players I liked to the Minnesota Wild. I was very upset; I decided to start a simple hashtag, #BringbackEnnisandFoligno, which is common for people on social media to do, no matter how minor the situation. Usually, people can blow something like this off within a week however, this trade stuck in my head because of the backlash I received from Sabres fans.
Some fans, mostly middle-aged white men, sent me vulgar, discriminating and completely appalling comments. The first one that stuck in my head was a photo too vulgar to write down with the comment, “Flap your mouth elsewhere.” The worst part about the comment was that someone had screenshotted it along with the picture and posted it to a Twitter account that mocks the comments made by Sabres fans on Facebook. The owner of the account suggested that people target me. The harassment spread from Facebook to Twitter and it only got worse.
People hacked into my Facebook page, stealing my profile pictures and personal family photos as well. Over the course of three months, I changed my Facebook password five times, but that did not stop the online trolls from hacking in. Someone had posted a picture of me in a Pittsburg Penguins hat stating that I was a bandwagoner–someone who cheers for a sports team just because it is good. Considering the Penguins were back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, fans were accused of bandwagoning. Another name they called me was “puck bunny,” the definition for that is too inappropriate to write here.
My Twitter account was hacked not once, but twice. Fans left comments like, “You need to get over the trade.” Worst of all was when the death threats began. “You need to go die,” a thirteen-year-old boy wrote to me.
I had enough with the harassment. I fought back on Facebook, commenting back at the bullies, telling them to leave me alone and using inappropriate language as well. As a result, the Sabres Facebook page blocked me when I did nothing but stick up for myself.
The harassment then quickly spread to Instagram. The Sabres blocked every account that contained the name “Mary Kate Wirfel.” A young fan hacked into my professional photography Instagram account, stealing the watermark logo that I worked so hard on designing. He used my account to write nasty things to Sabres fans using vulgar and inappropriate language. Once again, the organization and the fans pointed their fingers at me. As a result, I was blocked. As for the fake account, I threatened whoever hacked me that I was going to take legal action. I reported the issue to Instagram and my original account was restored, pictures back to normal. I had to change my name, profile picture and the password to feel safer online.
I have reported all the harassment incidents to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Some of the comments were taken down but most of them “did not violate” Facebook, Twitter or Instagram’s “community guidelines.” Even if they were death threats.
Don’t Feed the Trolls
I needed a place to vent about all this, so I took to my blog on Tumblr to tell my followers my story, and how cyberbullying is not OK. Some Sabres fans who followed me did not like what I was saying at all. One account known as “Sabreshockey” called me out as if I were the bad guy, telling me that I “needed to grow up” that I was “harassing people” and that all this was my fault and not the bullie’s, and lastly, I “need to get over pointless things.” As a result, all the Tumblr followers took her side and began to harass me. I could not fight back because, to them, defending myself was harassment. Another account known as “Scandella” wrote probably one of the most hurtful comments that I have ever seen. She called me out, saying that I have “delusional behavior” and that I “am not a mental health expert” despite the fact that I suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. I was hurt deeply by the comments. I kindly asked the girls to take the comments down they responded, “No, I hope you have learned a valuable lesson here,” and that I “will get what I deserve.” Then I was blocked by both the accounts. I reported both accounts to Tumblr for harassment, but Tumblr did nothing about the accounts or the comments.
Looking for Help
At my breaking point, I reached out to Lauren Hall, a news reporter for Pegula Sports entertainment, and Paul Hamilton, a sports reporter for the Sabres and the One Buffalo Instagram page for help. Both Lauren Hall and Paul Hamilton blocked me; maybe they thought I was just another online troll. As for the One Buffalo Instagram page, it blocked me from their online store.
I then e-mailed the Sabres organization explaining the entire situation. As the harassment continued, people were inboxing me with messages to “drink bleach,” “slit my wrists,” “move to Minnesota.” The comment that put me over the edge was by a man who wrote, “I hope your mom dies.”
I have deleted all the comments off my phone. Keeping them on my phone and looking at them was bad for my mental health.
Considering the Sabres never got back to me through e-mail, it was time to make the phone call. The first time I called, no one answered, so I left a message giving my name and phone number. I then called three more times before I got a response on the Sabres Instagram account. The comment stated, “Hi Mary Kate. You have been unblocked, but if you spam again you will get blocked again.” The sad part was, I was never spamming, everyone thought I was this evil little online troll bullying others. I was not the bully. I was getting bullied, harassed and tortured by middle-aged white men and immature teenage girls.
This situation should have been handled differently. The Sabres latest slump may be karma to the fans who have harassed me for the past six months, and continue to mock me for the opinionated hashtag that I posted. I don’t know what kind of organization Terry Pegula is running, but it’s not a very professional one. I am starting to believe that he only cares about the fans’ money and not the fans themselves. It angers me to say that because I used to be a fan. I used to enjoy watching Sabres games. Now, I can’t even bear to turn on a game, not because of how awful the team is playing, but because I will see all the disappointed fans and remember how poorly they have treated me all because I gave my opinion.
The lesson learned here is that evil people who hide in their rooms behind smartphones, tablets and computers, complaining about their poorly run NHL team and targeting others to make themselves feel better are fighting their own demons. I am still hurt by their behavior. As for now, the only words I have left to say are: I’m not sorry for giving my opinion and I am not sorry for sticking up for myself.
With that said, regret the trade now?