University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach Craig Neal asserted last week that his son, redshirt sophomore point guard Cullen Neal, was receiving death threats from Lobos fans. Via the Daily Lobo:

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“Put yourself in his shoes. Walk in his shoes for one day,” Craig Neal said. “It’s not fair that you get threats and you get death threats, and it’s not right. So does it affect him? I think that kind of answers your question.”

“I’ll just put it this way,” he said. “When you have to change your phone number and you have to shut down your Twitter account and you have to change your Facebook account, it’s sad.”

Athletics director Paul Krebs also put out a statement, saying the university was looking into threats against an unspecified athlete. And before Saturday’s game against San Jose State, volunteers handed out thousands of signs to fans in support of Neal.

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There is no doubt that Cullen Neal is a lightning rod of criticism for the 15-10 Lobos. The Santa Fe New Mexican writes that he’s a “mouthy brat” with the reputation of a “smack-talking punk,” and it doesn’t help that he is holding down a starting role on his father’s team shooting 35% with almost as many turnovers as assists.

But is he merely the subject of heated discussion, or are there people actually threatening his life? Craig Neal and UNM officials met with the police about the issue yesterday, and never mentioned death threats against Cullen Neal, according to the Albuquerque Journal:

“We met with coach Neal on Sunday, and they are not filing a police report at this time,” said Stump, the lead investigator for the school’s police department. “We did make resources available to him. If anything else arises, we’ll just take it from the there.”

When asked if Craig Neal mentioned any specific death threats during the meeting, Stump said. “No. No.”

[...]

When a Journal reporter asked Stump if police specifically asked if there were death threats, Stump said, “We asked what the contents were. … It was just more of a ‘Watch yourself,’ not alluding to anything specific. Obviously a coach, or a dad, is going to look at it and think that it’s more than it is.”

Cullen Neal has also changed his phone number, so nothing was saved, and his father didn’t present any threatening messages or tweets to police.

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To a certain extent, this is all just semantics. Social media is a flaming dumpster, and I have no doubt that people on Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media platform are saying vile, vile things about Neal. And with few consequences for hitting send, it can be extremely difficult to gauge exactly what constitutes a threat, and just how serious it is.

But you can’t hold a press conference declaring that one of your players—your son—is receiving death threats (plural), and then fail to bring the receipts to the police. Quite appropriately, death threats are treated much more seriously than nasty words online. Believing that somebody wants to hurt you is orders of magnitude worse than being called a fuck face by a dozen people on Twitter.

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Seemingly in response to the Albuquerque Journal story and the answers from their own spokesperson, on Wednesday evening the UNM police came out with a statement clarifying that they, “consider [the threats] to be of a serious nature and entirely consistent with how Coach Neal characterized them to the media and police.”

At this point, a messy situation has only gotten messier. The fans who don’t like Cullen Neal can easily believe that his father is making up threats to stave off criticism of him, while his supporters can feel rightfully disgusted that his own fans are threatening his life. The stakes have been raised, but what is actually going on hasn’t been made any clearer.

Photo via AP; h/t Phillip


E-mail: kevin.draper@deadspin.com | PGP key + fingerprint | DM: @kevinmdraper