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Have social networks become a problem for footballers?

Insults, racially abuses and free stress are convincing many pro to delete their accounts

Have social networks become a problem for footballers? Insults, racially abuses and free stress are convincing many pro to delete their accounts

If it's true that social networks continue to be more than just a hobby for some professional footballers, who have managed to transform their virtual profiles into huge sources of revenues (Cristiano Ronaldo, who has recently reached 200 million followers on Instagram, manages to earn about € 900k from a single post and, a very similar figure also on Twitter according to a recent study conducted by Opendorse), the English Players Footballers' Association has sounded the alarm: professional footballers are starting to refuse social networks for all the 'negativity' linked to them.

In support of its thesis, well collected from a recent BBC Sport article, the association of British professional players has provided the number of those who, in 2019, asked for the specific consultancy services: 643 athletes, more than 50% more than the number of the previous year.

The reasons that convinced many players to close their accounts, or at least to start seriously thinking about taking a painful step backwards, are manifold, but all linked to the barrage, the media bombardment caused by the avalanche of comments received: racist insults, offenses related to sexual orientation, to political ideas but also minor episodes such as goal mistakes in the offensive area and bad defensive performances, or outbursts for have lost a match at the fantasy football or sports bets lost by a whisker. In England, where the phenomenon of virtual abuses and verbal violence is extremely topical, already last October some players had decided to 'strike' for 24 hours, launch the hashtag #enough. While from Italy, the English defender of AS Rome Chris Smalling had publicly pointed out that there is a completely different way of using social networks, that is by making a different and constructive use of them, and that 'the time has come for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to evaluate the possibility of regulating their channels, taking responsibility for protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex or income'.

At the moment, however, very few have managed to put the right attention on the topic, there is not yet the right awareness on the problem and the right way to deal with it has probably not been found. Also because, as pointed out by the former British commentator and psychotherapist Gary Bloom:

"Sports psychology has always been traditionally related to field issues, graphs and data. But sports psychotherapy is above all about the care of the human being and building relationships and not trying to fix things, but making sure that "individual looks at their personal problems off the pitch. Cricket and rugby are ahead of football. Football is still in the Neanderthal age, sometimes you would think that in 2020 some of these problems would have been addressed."

The list of those who, even temporarily, had to take a break from social networks is already substantial: Celtic Glasgow player Ryan Christie but also the well-known Andy Robertson, Liverpool's Scottish left-back submerged by insults after the mistake it cost the Reds their defeat against Napoli last September. A year earlier, we change sports but not a basic concept, even the Philadelphia 76ers player JJ Redick had decided to free himself and close that 'dark place', thus commenting on social networks: 'They have become an extension of you. It's fucking scary'. Certainly the choice to leave social platforms, however necessary, is extremely anachronistic: the sports world has been witnessing the expansion of Tik Tok in recent months and the unbridled growth of the official profiles of professional teams, and many players and top teams Europeans are basing much of their global economic boom on the relative engagement of social networks, by implementing ad hoc strategies based on influencers' activities. For footballers, social networks have become a odi et amo, a double-edged sword: desired and coveted to obtain popularity and appreciation from top brands and an easy showcase to increase the number of fans, they are very complicated to manage daily for the many unpleasant consequences so much that they are often entrust by special figures.