Social media has allowed fans to get closer than ever before to their favorite players, but for others, it has provided an open channel to anonymously send abusive and hateful messages, something the companies that run these platforms seem either unwilling or unable to stop.
Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game, says she regularly witnesses first hand the impact abusive messages have on her players and, if it was up to her, would “100%” take all of them off social media.
It’s become so bad that if companies such as Facebook and Twitter do not begin to tackle this issue seriously, Hayes says, then she can envisage some footballers contemplating suicide.
“I have to live it every day,” Hayes explains to CNN’s Amanda Davies. “I have to manage young people that are maybe flavor of the month, so to speak, online and then treated so despicably the next, maybe even by the same people – and then the impact that has on them and their internal struggle, that translates into massive underperformance.
“I feel that social media, while it is a force for good in so many ways, I think if that doesn’t change quite quickly, we will be talking about some of the more severe ends of perhaps people taking their lives with some of the abuse that they experience online.
“I see what it does to their mood, I see what it does to their mindset, I see what it does to their confidence.
“But there is no denying there are vulnerable athletes with mental health issues across the board that – off the back of a bad game or off of being a woman, or being gay, or being of different color, or ethnicity – experience vile, abusive messages that could certainly put them in a position where they could contemplate that.”
These fears were echoed by former Premier League footballer Anton Ferdinand at a recent Home Affairs Committee inquiry into online abuse, during which he spoke alongside two other former players, Lianne Sanderson and Marvin Sordell, about the online abuse they had received.
“There is a mental health issue of not being able to escape it. My worry is, what are the social media companies waiting for?” he asked. “Are they waiting for a high-profile footballer to kill themselves, or a member of their family to commit suicide? Is that what they’re waiting for?
“Because if they’re waiting for that it’s too late. This comes down to if [social media companies] really want to make change? So far, their words are that they want to but their actions are different.”