FILE - Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has had a barrage of online abuse. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP
FILE - Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has had a barrage of online abuse. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP

When did online abuse of athletes become something people were comfortable to engage in?

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Sep 9, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - THE US Open has been an absolute treat. Perhaps because, in the absence of Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, many had thought it could lose some of its lustre.

However, the quality of play, level of drama and the emergence of new faces have made it one of the most enjoyable sports events of the year. And as boorish as American sports fans can be, their presence has added to the enjoyment, even through the TV screen.

Some of that enjoyment has been tempered by what players have to face once a match is over.

It was Sloane Stephens and later her compatriot Shelby Rogers who shone a spotlight on one of the ugliest parts of modern sport – online abuse.

It’s such a regular part of watching sport nowadays that, in the light of Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho missing those penalties in the Euro 2020 final a few months back, everyone just knew they would get racially abused. In a twisted way, it has come to be accepted.

Stephens had a good run at her home tournament, one she won four years ago. She is one of the most articulate and intelligent athletes in any sport.

She lost in the third round to the excellent Angelique Kerber.

The next day, she published the sickening abuse she got as a result of that loss. Her race, gender and social worth were attacked. A lot of the abuse, it is believed, stemmed from the betting world, which is increasingly playing a bigger role in modern professional sports.

Rogers, after being defeated in the fourth round, said at a postmatch press conference that she was probably going to get called a “fat pig” once she opened her social media feeds.

She went on to explain that it wasn’t as simple for an athlete to “just don’t look at the replies or comments” because social media had become an invaluable commercial tool for athletes.

It also assists in a variety of charitable and social programmes many athletes have created.

The abuse on social media is incomprehensible.

When did that become something people were comfortable to engage in?

It has got to the point where, because of what has been a feature of this year’s US Open – the emergence of so many good young potential future stars – you fear for them.

The growth of social media, and the way athletes use their platforms, has become an important element in modern sport.

But there is a sick and deeply disturbing part to it all that makes watching sport less palatable.

Booing used to be the worst that athletes had to face way back when. Now, a loss or mistake can bring righteous indignation, but that can almost be more acceptable than being told to “spend less time posing like a f….c…”

In sharing those messages, Stephens wrote: “This type of hate is so exhausting and never ending.”


IOL Sport

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