Today’s athletes need to be careful in an increasingly hostile social media world

As the safest and most successful coach in the NFL, Belichick has the luxury and the right to ignore the online world. But it is naive to claim that players will do the same.

For most of them, social media has always been a part of their life. And it’s impossible to ignore how much the tenor of the two-way conversation on social media has changed in recent years. It’s meaner than ever, with attacks as personal as they’ve ever been. There are many reasons, but two obvious ones stand out: money and access.

From the explosion of daily fantasy bets, legal since a Supreme Court ruling three years ago, to the growing connection with once-unreachable stars, there is both a reason and a viability for angry fans of spill their bile.

Take the recent example of Raheem Mostert, the 49ers running back who suffered what was later revealed as a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. The online vitriol was so bad that Mostert’s wife took to Instagram to share how fans told her husband he “should kill himself, should be cut, about the way he’s made of glass.”

Patriots running back Damien Harris (center) was inundated with angry messages after a crucial late fumble against the Dolphins in Week 1.Adam Hunger / Associated press

It was for getting hurt. Players like the Patriots ‘Damien Harris and the Chiefs’ Clyde Edwards-Helaire, whose late-game fumbles cost their teams a potential victory, have seen their social media feeds filled with equally ugly anger, especially from the share of punters who lost money.

It happens in all sports. At the recent US Open, American tennis players Shelby Rogers and Sloane Stephens shared stories of abuse online. In an extreme case tried last March, prominent sports player Benjamin “Parlay” Patz pleaded guilty to threatening Tampa Bay Rays baseball players via direct messages on Instagram.

According to a plea deal, Patz’s threats would have included the following: “I will enter your house while you sleep”; “And cut your neck open”; “I will kill your whole family”; “All those you love will cease soon”; “I’m going to cut up your family”; and “Then dismember [sic] alive. ”He faces up to five years in prison.

For Declan Hill, a professor at the University of New Haven and a leading expert in the sports betting industry, these cases are an offshoot of the “gamblization of sports”, which he called “a new term coined by academics” .

The University of Oxford’s PhD described the growing link between sports leagues and gaming entities as “transforming sport from a sport to a vehicle for the game”.

“The classic case is that of horse racing,” Hill said. “Very few are there because they love horses. They are a vector of gambling addiction.

“In the UK we see a number of studies in which especially young men who follow sport are no longer interested in sport but are interested in gambling. It is changing the nature of sport. Guys say, “It’s not the same game unless I have a few bucks on it.” “

In the case of the NFL, this elephant has never been overlooked in the room. League Rep, Brian McCarthy, detailed the NFL’s efforts to protect the integrity of the game, as well as his advice for teams and players if anything crosses the line. The NFL has dedicated resources to monitoring online abuse, going so far as to contact individual commentators who are making threats.

“I just got back from a security service meeting and part of the presentation to the clubs and players is a main ‘don’t get involved’ message,” said McCarthy. “Let your multiple points of contact, your security staff, the director of player engagement… To borrow a phrase from Homeland Security, ‘See something, say something.’

“We also have a global security operations center, GSOC, which has proprietary and third-party tools to protect and analyze potential threats. Our security service works with clubs and educates appropriate staff. When and where necessary, we engage the police. Many times we contacted the person who posted directly.

“The other part is that we have a relationship with these platforms. If we see something that violates moral standards, the policy is to have them removed immediately. “

The Patriots declined to share their specific approach to online player harassment, but McCarthy pointed to the ongoing conversation between the league and each franchise, citing increased mental health resources both with clubs and at the league.

It was the question of how players deal with such vitriol, of feeling like fans see them as commodities rather than human beings, that prompted me to ask Belichick the question. It wasn’t so much about his own defense, but how at least an element of his keen coaching sense could be devoted to helping players navigate this insidious world. To his credit, he attempted to respond, noting that the best way to blunt such criticism is to stand in solidarity.

“We all rely on each other, are responsible to each other, we support each other,” Belichick said. “And we all make mistakes. You can make a mistake at the start of a game, at the end of a game, sometimes it gets magnified because of the timing. Things that could have happened at other times that could have had so much impact.

“We all need to correct mistakes – that goes for all of us. We do this as an individual, as a unit and as a team. “

Veteran Patriots captain Matthew Slater is taking his coach’s initiative not to use social media, in part because he knows he would be too deeply affected. He offers this advice to young players:

“You can’t let people you don’t know or will never meet talk to in your life. You need to be careful who you allow to talk in your life and how you allow them to talk in your life.

“There is a lot of negativity when it comes to social media. I remind these guys to remember to have strong self-esteem, to remember who they are, the things they represent, the things they hope to represent, the people in their life that matter to them, the family and friends, the people they have real real relationships with.

“And when it comes to people who want to spit negativity on social media, you can’t hold them accountable. “


Tara Sullivan is a columnist for The Globe. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.

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