By Sam Arnold, LPC student at College of Law
Social networking is one of life’s great inventions; it has the ability to connect billions of people on a global scale at the click of a button. It is also one on the biggest commodities in the business world. Websites such as MySpace, YouTube, and more recently Mark Zuckerberg’s FaceBook have all attracted billions of dollars worth of financial interest.
So, why is such a positive social tool so dangerous for today’s professional athletes?
The answer, in short, is that social networking sites including, most prominently, Twitter, allows the user to post their thoughts to the millions of people occupying cyberspace in an instant – and this is not always a good thing.
You would be hard pressed to find a person walking the planet that at some point in their life hasn’t said something and immediately regretted doing so. But, with social networking it is put into the public domain, in the hands of the masses to read, interpret and scrutinise.
For example, a matter of hours before jetting off to participate in the current European Football Championships, Liverpool and England full-back, Glen Johnson posted a message on his personal Twitter account which read “Poland bound…” Nothing ominous here – a footballer simply updating his fans as to his current movements. However, amongst the “Good Luck!” messages sent in reply was one from Johnson’s teammate at Liverpool, Spaniard Daniel Pacheco – “Good luck Negrito”.
“Negrito” is a Spanish derivative of “Negro”.
Now, it does not take a genius to comprehend that this Tweet may raise a few eyebrows, and this could perhaps explain why, barely minutes later, Pacheco followed this up with a message explaining that “Negrito” can be a term of endearment in Spanish, and that he frequently called Johnson this in training, and that no offence had ever been caused.
But Pacheco, in the author’s opinion, has been very fortunate in this instance. Apart from a quick flurry of “Have you seen this??” type tweets and a couple of inches in the next day’s newspapers the Spanish forward has escaped reprimand.
Pacheco’s efficient justification was perhaps a reaction forged by the fate that bestowed his Liverpool teammate, Luis Suarez earlier in the season. Suarez was involved in a spat with Manchester United’s French defender, during which Suarez, admittedly, called Evra “Negrito”. Suarez, like Pacheco, cited that the term was used as one of endearment, but was ultimately found guilty of racist abuse as banned for eight matches.
Interestingly, it was during the Suarez case that the Football Association provided that one can be guilty of racist abuse if anyone is offended by the words used – it doesn’t even have to be the intended recipient of the dialogue. This means that if anyone who read the Pacheco tweet could show that they were offended he would have been guilty of the offence. Again – lucky Pacheco.
Added to this, Chelsea and England defender John Terry is currently awaiting trial, in relation to an accusation of racist abuse aimed at Queen’s Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand. This case is a real indication of the seriousness that the Football Association is placing on racism, not before time, and is perhaps another indication that Pacheco has been very fortunate not to be called to task.
After all, it is not as if sports governing bodies, or even the Police and the British judiciary are afraid to punish individuals for comments made on social networking sites such as Twitter.
In February 2012, former Manchester United, and current West Ham United starlet Ravel Morrison was fined £7,000 for making homophobic comments towards a fellow Twitter user.
Morrison was charge under the FA Rule E3 for the use of abusive and/or insulting words including a reference to a person’s sexual orientation. This decision by the FA is perhaps the strongest indication yet that their Rules and Regulations are to now be interpreted in conjunction with social networking, and should perhaps serve as a warning to sportsmen, such as the questionably naïve Pacheco.
Most recently, and arguably most seriously, is the case of Sheffield United reserve team player, Connor Brown, who was suspended by his club after comments were posted on Twitter in relation to a five-year jail sentence handed to his teammate, Ched Evans, who had been found guilty of rape.
Brown, more than likely angry and upset at his teammates incarceration has reacted – he has said something which he can’t take back, and whilst it has subsequently been deleted as part of the club’s investigation, it can easily be proved that he said it. This has potentially catastrophic implications for Brown, on a number of different levels. Firstly, he could be charged by the police and fined or even jailed if found guilty; secondly, he could be sacked by his club and sued for breach of contract – the Adrian Mutu cocaine case whilst at Chelsea Football Club proves that this is quite possible; and finally, good luck finding another club, another sponsor, or another endorsement.
Brown was investigated by his club for committing a criminal act – this case, more than any, shows just how seriously sports clubs, governing bodies, and in some cases, the Police, are now taking the use and misuse of social networking sites.
In an effort to guide their clients, Full Contact Sports has recently suggested that they are hoping to appoint a consultant whose role will encompass offering media training and support.
This is positive, forward thinking from the team at Full Contact, the result of which will hopefully be greater player/fan athlete interaction, and an end to rather nonsensical behaviour from those who are unsure of how to embrace developing media platforms.
By Sam A Arnold
Find me on Twitter @SamAArnold« EPPP: Ipswich Town Football Club Sky’s the Limit as BT join the party »
Sam Arnold, law student studying the LPC at the College of Law
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