Returning volunteer Leah Langley discusses the impact of social media in the sporting world.
Social media is shifting the way that athletes and fans are interacting with each other. The interactive and friendly nature of social media makes them idyllic platforms to fuel people’s sporting desires and needs. Whilst it is enabling fans to become more engaged with athletes, it is also forcing sporting professionals to be more liable for the comments they make on public platforms.
Originally social media was seen as a positive thing for the sporting world as it was a way for clubs and athletes to directly connect with the public without having to worry about the press twisting their words and selling their versions of stories. However, over the years, social media has found itself at the heart of many sports’ “scandals”.
There are still many occasions where athletes are “humanised” and there are heart-warming videos of athletes helping out in the community or reaching out to their fans, but these are now being tainted with tweets and posts surfacing (some from years ago) that show the less friendly side of stars within the sports world.
Australian rugby player, Israel Folau, has found himself caught up in one of these “scandals” this year after he made a supposedly comedic post saying that “hell awaits” gay people. This was found to be a breach of Rugby Australia’s (RA) player code of conduct and his four-year contract was terminated in April. Land Rover withdrew a car that they had issued to him, and sports brand, Asics, terminated their partnership with him and removed him as one of their brand ambassadors. England rugby player, Billy Vunipola, defended the post and said people should “live their lives how God intended” which has seen him given a “formal warning” by the RFU.
In 2018, Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers Sean Newcomb and Josh Hader had to face up to tweets that they sent as teenagers that were racist, sexist and homophobic. Australian swimming star, Stephanie Rice, lost a valuable jaguar sponsorship deal and had to give up a luxury car due to a homophobic tweet she posted in 2012. Michel Mortadella, a Swiss football star, was banned from the London Olympics for a racist tweet he posted about South Korean players following a loss his team suffered. Greek Pole Vaulter, Paraskevi Papachristou, posted a racist tweet during the 2012 games and was subsequently barred from competing.
To ask all sports stars to only post certain things would take away their right to freedom of speech, but with the eagle-eyed social media users constantly looking for every flaw they can find, do sports stars have a expectation to act in a certain way?
For their own sake and the sake of their careers, it seems it would be in their best interest to only post the “politically correct” opinions upheld by the majority of the population, but this filtered image would take away from the amazing moments that some sorts of media have propelled.
Posts that resurface from years ago are still having a detrimental effect on athlete’s careers today, when they may not necessarily hold the same views they did back then. In this sense, social media has a damaging effect on the sporting community because everyone makes mistakes, and the only reason these ones are being paid attention to is because the people in question are in the public eye. If everyone was in the public eye the “scandals” would be never-ending.
The biggest lesson that should be learnt from all of these incidents is that the posts are public and everyone can see them regardless of how long they may appear for. Instantly deleting posts will not make them any less damaging and people will go out of their way to find such posts if they think stories can be generated from them.
With social media embedding itself in our world more and more; sports stars are not going to be the only ones that find themselves at the centre of attention. Unfortunately it seems that the only way this can be dealt with is to either stay away from such platforms, or be a filtered version of yourself.
Featured image by: Omeiza Haruna