A couple of weeks ago, the NBA fined New York Knick Amar’e Stoudemire $50,000 for an offensive tweet that he sent in a private message to a fan.
Stoudemire said: “Fuck you. I don’t have to do anything fag.” Not a good look for a player in a league that has rallied behind the Think B4 You Speak campaign.
The fan Stoudemire was responding to was Brian Ferrelli, who has also been referred to as a troll. He had goaded Stoudemire, telling him that “you better come back a lot stronger and quicker to make up for this past season mannnnnn deadass!” After Stoudemire replied, Ferrelli then tweeted: “Just got a DM from @Amareisreal after I told him to step his shit up so the Knicks will get further next season…pussy.”
Ferrelli wasn’t fined by anyone, of course, and in fact was probably quite chuffed by the fact that Stoudemire had engaged in some friendly banter with him through a subsequent apology.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, a troll asked Carlton midfielder Brock McLean if he had “finally been delisted”, to which McLean replied “’No, your mum has given me aids”. Carlton imposed a one match suspended sentence, and an enforced donation of $5,000 which McLean would give to an appropriate charity.
Numerous commentators, including the code’s two most prominent female opinion-makers, Sam Lane and Caroline Wilson, argued that even this fine could be regarded as too harsh a punishment. Wilson defended this view by arguing that “there was no sensitivity regarding the anonymous tweeter’s mother, and surely no one suffering from AIDS would have taken serious offence.”
We live in a strange online world, where one person’s cyberbully is another’s news source and where one person’s troll is another’s voice of reason.
It’s a world where the public sphere has changed in the lifetimes of today’s sportsmen and women. It is now one of anonymity and a lack of consequence for the majority.
It’s a world where numerous members of the public take to Twitter to criticise Sophie Mirabella’s reaction to Simon Sheikh’s collapse on Q&A.
It’s a world where Australia’s broadsheet newspapers The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald make it clear that contestants on reality TV programs should understand that they will be trolled not just by members of the public, but also by writers from the papers themselves in online articles, as was perhaps most famous with their comments about “legohead” Dani Venn in last year’s MasterChef competition.
And it’s a world where more and more videos are being made – and at times funded by the government – in an attempt to help tweenagers and teenagers understand the potentially traumatic effects of cyberbullying and the need to maintain positive relationships, digital citizenship and online etiquette.
(full length film can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtEGAcLBTTA)
Lane and Wilson’s argument that McLean’s punishment was over the top was based on the idea that McLean hadn’t gone that far with his comments, and they are probably right. However, in a world where sportspeople are punished for inappropriate behaviour because it may have a negative influence on the children who idolise them, one must think that sportspeople certainly need to be positive role models in cyberspace. Firstly, this is the arena where tween and teen sports fans are most likely to behave poorly themselves – they are more likely to make hurtful comments on Twitter than, say, piss on a wall outside of a pub after a few drinks at 2:00am. And secondly, this is the arena where tweens and teens actually personally interact with athletes.
All of which raises the question: what actions should we want from our role models in this instance?
Do we just want them to never write anything that may be construed as being rude and inappropriate? Be the bigger men/women and just ignore the abuse that they receive at all hours, like they are supposed to while they are on the field?
Or do we want our role models to take a stand against the trolls, and in doing so stand up for themselves?
Perhaps these two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
It wouldn’t hurt if people simply tried to be nice to each other, mind.