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Weren’t we trying to help athletes’ mental health? Online abuse ingrained but you can be the I in kind

I am constantly amazed by people – and unfortunately, it’s not always in a good way. Online abuse has become so ingrained in society that people honestly believe they are entitled to do it.

How anyone in this day and age still thinks it is OK to jump online and spit out vile abuse at someone that they don’t even know just baffles me.

So many of today’s “brave” keyboard warriors are quick to shoot from the hip when piling on the insults, but I doubt many of them would have the guts to actually step outside and say it directly to the person’s face.

Following Souths loss to the Panthers last week, winger Jaxson Paulo received a barrage of online abuse, blaming his poor efforts for the defeat. And it wasn’t just wave after wave of attacks on his performance – the 22-year-old received death threats.

Actual death threats.

Some were from frustrated fans of the Bunnies, knowing how important the win was for their final’s chances. Others were from punters who felt Paulo was at fault for their beloved multis falling through.

How pathetic.

Only a short 48 hours later, it was Tigers hooker Nu Brown’s turn to be in the firing line, receiving more online abuse through his social media accounts after his side’s embarrassing 72-6 loss at the hands of the Roosters.

Brown shared his feelings on Instagram, admitting that the abuse had made him realise “how hard this game is to play. Not just the physical aspect but the mental side of it too. It was probably the first time in a long time I felt like there were little cracks into my well-being and mindset. 

“People screaming at you, you suck! Voices in my own head doubting my ability. Comments saying you’re useless. I cried that night because I let myself and my loved ones down.”

And Brisbane Broncos NRLW player Julia Robinson had her physical appearance scrutinised when a photo was put on social media displaying her extremely strong physique, with comments made by jealous and insecure individuals that she resembled a male.

Didn’t we just all mourn the passing of Paul Green from suicide?

Weren’t we just all left heartbroken and shocked to learn that the 2015 premiership-winning coach had been battling mental health issues and took his own life?

And shortly after that, Ben Cummins opened up about the dark times he faced after the 2019 Grand Final. His error with the now infamous ‘six again call’ not only had him cop abuse from all angles, but his family was shockingly on the receiving end as well.

Cummins bared his soul and a few days later copped more abuse in the course of just doing his job.

The outpouring of emotion for Green was enormous, and the support behind Cummins and referees in general was loud.

People were shouting from the rooftops: “We need to do more for mental health in sport!”

“It’s just a game!”

“The online trolls need to back off, our sports stars are human and make mistakes just like the rest of us!”

And literally in the same month, we are back here again.

It’s believed that Paulo and the South Sydney club are going to take the matter further and are involving the police. Geez, I hope that’s true. Those big tough online bullies who hide behind a screen and live in their parent’s basements need to understand there are consequences to their idiotic actions.

Sports players are more accessible than ever before. Walking around after games to chat and take photos with supporters, popping up on podcasts and interviews, and of course, through the wonderful world of social media.

Most of us who have social media accounts love being able to follow and interact with our heroes. Getting to see what they do outside of the game, wishing them a happy birthday or congratulating them on the birth of a child.

They let us into their worlds, and we are very lucky that they do. It’s a privilege for us fans, not a right.

But more often than not that privilege is being violated, and it may one day be taken away.

Not a day goes by that someone, somewhere, makes a mistake in their profession. I still put apostrophes in the wrong spot. Thankfully for the majority of us, we don’t have an audience of people who have never done our job, watching our every move and ready to pounce when we stuff up.

Commenting on one’s efforts on the field is however part and parcel of being a supporter. Everyone knows that. Our teams play poorly, players make us frustrated, officials make a wrong call – we have all looked up to the heavens and screamed.

But turning frustration into abuse is not on. Feeling the need to sprout off a bunch of hurtful, personal, racist, sexist, disgusting taunts because the scoreboard doesn’t reflect what you had hoped for – or just because you are a jerk – is beyond wrong.

There’s a saying at my son’s school that we also use at home – “Be the I in KIND.”

I can’t believe some adults struggle with that concept.

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