According to Ofcom’s 2013 report, 21.7 million households in the UK have access to the internet, from these households 55% report using social media. You may be thinking this number is relatively low in comparison the overall population? However just sitting at a desk or searching your laptop is not the only way in which social media and networks are accessed. How are you reading this right now?
The same 2013 statistics show that staggeringly the UK has over 82 million mobile phone subscriptions. Of these, 94% of adults have reported using their phone in some way to access social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. With this vast amount of people (in the UK alone) able to have fingertip connections to the world around them, it is no wonder the way in which social networking has taken over many lives.
In today’s culture of “liking” this or “hash-tagging” that, it has become extremely easy for comments to be seen globally at the touch of a button. Often these comments are not entirely thought-out and can have servre consequences. There are several examples of people using this type of media for publicity and gaining the rewards from it. I myself am no cynic to the use of social media; in fact I use numerous different networks to connect with friends, family and colleagues daily. From this I have been able to keep up-to-date with all my sporting “likes”, “follows” and “connections” with minute by minute detail.
However, should you really be able to instantly see what my favourite footballer had for their lunch? Or even watch videos of them driving their new sports car? Most people have varying views on this and the way in which professional sports people, in particular (as well as other celebrity figures), use social media. Can top level athletes being on twitter take away the mystery of elite sport, or does it just make it more realistic and attainable for the average Joe?
Some of the most “followed” people on Twitter are in fact athletes; Cristiano Ronaldo has over 25 million people viewing every Tweet he sends for example. Some of these are almost certainly children and other people who see the Real Madrid superstar as a godlike figure. With this idealisation that many athletes have, it has become imperative that messages or comments (that can be seen by the world) are thoughtful and most importantly, thought about.
Now it has become the norm to browse through networks to see how the world is communicating and what people are talking about. Only recently has social media taken over people’s lives. Psychologist Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. writes about how more people are becoming reclusive but find it easier to communicate with a screen than a person. How does this effect sport? Surely with the rise in people getting stuck to their media will it not result in an activity level fall? This is extremely farfetched, as you may believe, but was it not once thought that the world was flat? This however is another topic.
What effect would overuse or rather, improper use of social networks have on the workings of elite level clubs? The list of athletes on social media is too long to list but no doubt many people are aware of several. Some people like to antagonise professional athletes with the use of this style of media, but when they finally reply with any thoughts it can be their careers on the line. Comments on different scales can have effects on not only the athlete themselves but potentially their team too (if they have one).
The Football Association have installed protocols that deal with footballers offending or commenting out of the terms of being a professional. There is a long list of players who have received large fines over comments on social media. Examples of this include Carlton Coles 2011 tweet about “getting into Wembley” which cost the striker £20,000 in fines due to a racism allegation. Another of which was when Rio Ferdinand made, what was stated as, a racist remark which cost him £40,000.
When players are seen in the media to be making comments, and then from these receiving fines, it can have a negative effect on performance. Fans can change opinions on player’s teams or both when subjective to other media influences. In turn, being an open network, they could vent to the player themselves or the team through the very media in which they were in trouble for using.
Psychologically the use of social media has pros and cons for our elite athletes who use it. Self-esteem can directly be affected, both positively and negatively. When athletes have low self-esteem they can often struggle to think things will get better. Or perhaps struggle to score effectively in their sport which in turn could lead to being dropped and ultimately out of their job. Although this is a downward spiral, it cannot purely be put down to social; accounts can be deleted after all. However there are some people who argue that the age of the athlete needs to be considered. In America, some colleges have issued top-end sports stars with social media bans. This is so the athletes have no other external pressures and they cannot divulge information about the team, such is the level of collegiate sport.
As well as self-esteem players could have increased motivation potentially, to prove others wrong. They can also gain information and improve their knowledge through the use of social media. These effects can be constructive or damaging for the athlete and stem from social interactions with others.
Ultimately it is up to the athlete and them alone to decide whether they can handle the pressures and consequences of being involved with global social media. It should also be down to others to treat athletes as real people. Sometimes the realisation that an actual person is at the other end of the derogatory message should be enough to stop people saying it. However within the world that is professional sport, the public will always want the inside scoop immediately. But should this be our right, or should athletes remain enigmatic?
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About Charles Gardiner
Current University Rugby Union coach and Sports Scientist with an interest in all things sport related, I have worked with Lincolnshire FA and the University of Lincoln.