Hatemail – Social media and professional athletes

We live in a world where more and more information is available to hockey fans through the internet and television. Shows like 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, CH24 and Oil Change are giving fans a documented behind-the-scenes look at the inner-workings of hockey teams and its players. Fans are loving this. They have a desire to know what its like to be a hockey player. They want to see what the team road trips are like, what coaches say between periods, or even the banter between players on the ice.

Many players have helped make this easier by engaging with fans through social media, most notably Twitter. Players like Paul Bissonnette, George Parros, Andrew Ference, Jack Johnson, Taylor Hall, and many others have opened Twitter accounts for fans to follow, uploading photos of road trips, inside jokes with other players, answering questions, and so on. It really gives fans an inside, personal look at the life of a hockey player, something that was never really available before social media.

However, a small amount of fans have decided that having access to social media gives them the right to say whatever they want, no matter how hurtful or negative. They may be unhappy with how a player performed that night, or they may have lost a bet because the player missed an open-net. They may just be a close-minded racist bigot who thinks abusive comments are fine. The problem with the Internet is that it is a great hiding place for cowards. People say things that they would never say to another person’s face.  A prime example would be when Joel Ward scored the overtime winner in game 7 against the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs. Many people took to the internet to throw racial slurs and incredibly insulting comments towards Ward. The internet, being the sanctuary of anonymity that it is, means people can say these things without showing their faces, or even giving their real names. There’s barely a paper trail on the internet, so it can be difficult to trace these comments back to people. There’s little chance of being identified, and cowards take full advantage of this. They love the amount of attention they get from other people. They are energized by the anger thrown their way, because they can simply hide behind a username.

Some people take to twitter to make insulting and abusive remarks just for the sake of doing it. Other people do it simply to get attention from people. Some idiotic “fans” insult players until they get a reaction. Most players simply ignore or block these people, not giving them the attention they so desperately want. These people come off as being extremely stupid, but with the anonymity of the internet they can getting away with it with almost no repercussions.

Paul Bissonnette has found a way to deal with some of these people. By being one of the more animated and controversial players on Twitter, Bissonnette gets his fair share of insulting hate-tweets. Instead of ignoring them, he stands up for himself and replies with a “chirp” of his own. Not only does the fan get put in his place (although it’s debatable whether the fan feels that way), the rest of the followers get to see just how stupid this fan really is. In a way, everyone wins; the fan gets the attention, and Bissonnette get to make them look like a total imbecile.

Unfortunately, it’s not only players gets the wrath of these so-called fans. Many TV or radio personalities also get insulted by self-proclaimed experts. I follow Tony Marinaro from TSN 690 Radio on Twitter, and I have a lot of respect for him and his opinions (as I do with most experts). Although sometimes (very rarely) I don’t agree with his opinions, I always respect them. Some fans seem to think that if they don’t agree with Tony’s opinions, they feel that it gives them the right to insult him and question his intelligence (among other things). From time to time, Tony will retweet these “twits”, and then block them. It’s unfortunate that he has to do that, but at least he gets to show everyone else how dumb these people can be. Another example of sports personalities being targeted would be when Nabil Karim and Gurdeep Ahluwalia recently hosted the late edition of SportsCenter on TSN. Some people decided that this was a good time to start making racist comments on Twitter, such as calling them Osama and Saddam, or Harold and Kumar. Other people made jokes about TSN getting a Punjabi network. It’s shameful, surprising and disappointing that this still happens. Many people showed that night the type of close-mindedness and ignorance that is all too common in the world.  It should not be a big deal when two ethnically diverse men host a sports show, and I was happy to see many people standing up for them. The problem is that it gives them exactly what they want: attention.

What these people do is the definition of cyber-bullying. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone famous, a pro athlete, or an adult that you’re insulting. It’s cyber-bullying, plain and simple. Gord miller from TSN tweeted that many GMs and coaches are concerned with the amount of attention young players give to social media. I don’t blame them. It is only human nature to wonder what people think of us, and how we are perceived by others. Many players try to stay away from tabloids or articles about themselves, but the problem with social media is that it is right there for players to see. The only way to avoid it is to cancel their account and never touch it again. It is unreasonable to expect all athletes (especially young ones) to be thick-skinned when it comes to social media. They should not have to deal with the abuse they receive. It’s sad that it is considered part of being a pro athlete that people will send a lot of hate your way. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s a very dark reality. A key example of this is tennis player Rebecca Marino, who has recently stepped away from tennis. She has suffered from depression for many years, but  the amount of abuse she was receiving from social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook took its toll on her. This is a perfect example of what cyber bullying can do to an individual. It’s disgusting that such a young star can be turned away from the game they love partly because of fools on the internet.

Social media can be a great way for players to interact with their fans and vice-versa. Most of the people who follow professional athletes do so because they are fans of that player, and they want to show their support and know more about them. However, some people have done their best to ruin it with their abusive, cowardly comments. So what can players do? Unfortunately, not much. As an professional athlete, you want to interact with your fans as much as you can. You don’t want to close down your social media accounts because of a minority of people who are being abusive. It’s difficult for young players to deal with the type of negative or insulting comments they can receive through social media, and over time it can take its toll. It’s an unfortunate reality, but players and sports personalities need to be careful with social media. They need to grow exceptionally thick skin, and ignore the idiots that use social media to be the cowardly keyboard warriors that they are. There’s not much else players can do besides block the “haters” and continue interacting with the true fans.

About Andrew Davis

Andrew is the Head Equipment Manager of the Concordia Stingers Women's Hockey team in Montreal, Quebec. He writes on his personal blog Odd Socks and Random thoughts, as well as about hockey on The Puck Stops Here.

Posted on March 11, 2013, in Pro Hockey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Getting close with professionals is always messy business. We crave the behind-the-scenes, yet our enjoyment is at the cost of someone else’s privacy. I, personally, love the ability to have “conversations” with professionals. Sadly, some people will take advantage of this and use the link between the people and the professionals to throw insults. There should be a course on how to deal with insults via social media.

    • That is a very good point Natalie. people take a good thing and ruin it. A course on how to deal with insults via social media is a great idea, and it could maybe bring more attention to the issue of cyber bullying. Many people assume cyber bullying stops after high school, but that is simply no true.

  2. People sometime forget that some of these athletes just turned 18, especially hockey and tennis players. The thought of a 50 year beer belly grown up men taking shots on twitter at an 18 year old athlete is disgusting. I remember when i was a kid, I would wait outside the Forum after the game on the side street and the players would come out to say hi and sign hockey cards. Now they drive straight underground and kids don’t have access to them. If so called fan keep sending stupid comments on social media, the same will happen, they will withdraw from social media to. To be honest, if i were an athlete, I don’t know if i would be on Facebook. Great blog again Andrew.

    • That’s a good point Robert. It would be a shame if athletes began to withdraw from social media the same way they have from face-to-face interactions. There’s simply too many fans, and too much hostility. Hopefully we start seeing a change in the near future.

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