When was the last time you looked at your phone? Just now? A minute ago? An hour? These days it seems like everyone is staring at their phones, checking emails, Facebook pages, or simply looking for a fresh new pair of kicks. If you think about it though, a mere 15 years back the idea of doing any of those tasks on a phone that fits in your hand was farfetched at best. At the forefront of the ‘phonegaze’ revolution resides social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and relative newcomer Snapchat. Athletes and managers alike took to these different platforms to give a place for their fans to congregate and get continuous updates on their favorite athletes. This also began to humanize these larger than life celebrities and, in some cases, shown their true colors.
In late 2014 Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli posted an image of the Nintendo character Super Mario with a caption that read, “jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a jew” on his Instagram account. The post was deleted and followed with an apology on Twitter when Balotelli realized it was viewed as offensive rather that the anti-racist message he originally intended. The Football Association (FA) fined him £25,000, banned him from one match, and a mandatory attendance to an education course. To put it into perspective, the normal punishment for a race-related social media post is a three to five match ban. Due to Balotelli’s acceptance of the charge, written response outlining his intent with the post, as well as his own bouts with racism, the punishment was mitigated to a lesser sentence.
Closer to our neck of the woods, the Ontario Hockey League suspended two players, Greg Betzold and Jake Marchment for a whopping 15 games each for using abusive language towards women on the dating app Tinder. Many believe that the OHL set out to make an example of the two players to reinforce the notion that misogynistic and abusive behavior are not tolerated. Since the NHL frequently recruits out of the OHL, an incident at that level can drastically harm a career at that stage.
The 2012 Olympics set a new record and not one that anyone hopes to hold. Triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from the Greek Olympic team for posting a racist tweet, becoming the first athlete in history to be banned for social media behavior. At the end of the day, your social media presence can propel you into the headlines, but sometimes not the way you’d like to be written about.