#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Social-media trolls need to remember that athletes are human too

Others may not be in the shape they are used to. Many athletes have made peace with that fact, and were either competing as part of their training, or to meet contractual commitments. 

From an athlete’s perspective, having up to four months away from a track, gym, coaches, physiotherapists and training partners, while doing strength and conditioning sessions in a back garden, is definitely going to impact performance. For athletes competing in field events, and requiring a shared pit or mat at a big centre like Loughborough’s HiPac for instance, the challenge has been even greater. How do you avoid spreading Covid-19 when people are landing in the same space, over and over again? The answer is to limit availability. For sprinters and hurdlers there were also struggles around equipment, waiting for regulations to ease around using blocks and hurdles. 

Others may be quietly injured, or on the verge of injury, a result of the changes forced upon us by the pandemic. 

To then see callous comments about body image, weight-shaming, jibes about performances not being where they usually are, and pejorative tones about an athletes’ choice of competition location has understandably left some feeling upset and embarrassed. We have all, as a society, been in completely new circumstances. We are learning to navigate these in our own way, and we have to make decisions with long-term interests in mind. 

Everyone is human. And everyone should be kind. Two basic things that we all know and have been taught since we were young children. But when it comes to high profile figures and social media, many tend to forget. They are real, we are real and whilst no one is above valid, measured and respectful criticism, malicious and inconsiderate trolling is unnecessary.

Screens give users something to hide behind. We are all one step removed from the comments we put out there. That often means we are also removed from a sense of accountability and responsibility. 

I’m an optimist, and I believe that people don’t intend to hurt others, they simply throw comments onto the internet without thinking that the subject will ever read them. Of course Twitter isn’t the only App this behaviour occurs on but it is the platform where it is hardest to control the content you see. You could be innocently scrolling down your feed and then you see a tweet that someone has retweeted or favourited pop up. People can directly @ you of course, and whilst you have control over who you see in your direct notifications, if enough people interact it will be thrust into your face anyway. 

Who prepares athletes for this? Or more broadly, who prepares those in the public eye for this? High profile individuals have never been more ‘accessible’ as they are today. Yes, in many aspects that is amazing. It means greater profile for sportswomen, and there are more ways to be in touch with fans. Truly, the vast majority of interactions online are overwhelmingly positive. But there is a significant proportion that aren’t so nice. 

We have to create a solution for this. Celebrities coming off social media for periods, turning off comments, blocking messages, hiding keywords and deleting accounts is not the way forward, in my view. It’s not sustainable, and it’s not tackling the cause of the problem. Like when people say, “Grow a thick skin”, what does that actually change? For me behavioural change is the only solution. All of us have to look at ourselves and reflect on what we post, interact with and click on. I include myself in that. 

So, I ask, before you put something out there, does it need to be said? If the person who posted it was to read it out loud, verbatim, to the subject, would it be embarrassing? Would it be uncomfortable? Would they cringe? Then ask yourself, is it necessary? Remember that everyone is human. Be mindful. Be kind. 

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