Pro athletes deal with social media attacks in different ways
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 21, 2013 7:20AM EST
Canadian tennis player Rebecca Marino's revelations that she's been bullied via social media has shone a light about how professional athletes react to what's said about them on Twitter and Facebook.
Marino said Wednesday she felt overwhelmed at times by barbs directed at her following a loss.
"The hurtful ones kind of stick with you a little bit more," Marino told reporters Wednesday during a conference call. "I was getting some messages saying I should go die, that I should go burn in hell, that I'm a dumb-ass, that I'm an idiot, that I lost them money.
"Social media is actually a really important part of our society and there can be a lot of good that comes out of it. I don't want to discredit social media. Personally, I find it can be quite distracting."
The 22-year-old from Vancouver announced Wednesday that she's stepping away from tennis, but that cyberbullying was not the primary reason.
A loss of passion for the pro tour and recent struggles with depression are the reasons, although Marino did say she's ignoring social media for now.
She opened the door to a discussion about online commentary on athletes' lives and about cyberbullying in general.
Many professional athletes have large numbers of opinionated followers on social media. Their actions in and out of their respective games are dissected on Internet chat rooms and message boards.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, who has almost 165,000 followers on Twitter, says it's important to keep perspective and have a thick skin when he scrolls through comments.
"You've got to realize there's millions, probably billions, of people on Twitter, so not all of them are good people who are going to say good things," Lupul said in Toronto on Wednesday.
"Obviously there are things people shouldn't say there but they do and for whatever reason they do that.
"If there was something that bothered me, I'd just shut (Twitter) off. If it really bothered me, I'd shut the whole account down."
Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles believes the anonymity of social media makes people bold and, in some cases, vicious.
"You hear about bullying, it exists on all levels. It's not just high school. It's towards athletes, co-workers, whatever," he said. "It's tough because I think when you have a computer or have a cellphone there's a lot of anonymity.
"I think people tend to take that to some pretty extreme degrees and that's the unfortunate part about it.
"I think if you go through our room anybody that's on Twitter has gone through some form of it one way or the other, myself included. It's not a fun thing to be a part of."
Toronto Blue Jays infielder Adam Loewen knows all about being the subject of virtual chatter after switching from promising pitcher to position player because of injuries and control issues. He's learned not to look in the social media mirror.
"When I was younger I paid a lot of attention to what was being said and paying attention to the negative things that were being said rather than the positive things," the 28-year-old said at the club's spring training in Dunedin, Fla.
"I think as a young athlete that can really get under your skin and I've learned along the way to just not even go there, not even look at it.
"Because it never helped. I'd read what fans were saying and ask myself how I can accommodate them, rather than be myself and control what I can control."
Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger coaches a team whose stars are in their early 20s and social-media savvy.
But the 53-year-old is concerned about the distraction of it in their lives and the impact on their performance.
"It's a new situation for guys from my generation to understand," Krueger said in Edmonton. "They're growing up with that so management of it is easier for them.
"For us to have our phone beeping voluntarily 400 times a day, we would call that negative and I think they enjoy it.
"It's an issue we need to understand, the sports psychology of all that. We need to get some psychologist in here to help us understand how we can improve the future of these players.
"They may get thrown too high or too low after wins and after losses, partly because of social media. The regular media world has always been there, but this is a new development and we have to take it seriously."
At the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kingston, Ont., New Brunswick skip Andrea Crawford says her team shrugged off negative comments they saw about themselves on Twitter this week.
"When I hear those tweets, I just tell the girls, 'Don't read them to me.' I just don't want to hear it," Crawford said. "So you do your best to ignore it. We just try to brush it off and say, 'You know what, these probably aren't even curlers.' Who knows?"