Risks of Using Social Networks for Athletes

13th February 2020
What are the risks for athletes when it comes to using social networks? You've probably seen multiple cases of celebrities who got into trouble for making certain types of statements.

The risks of social networks are often very important for athletes to understand. Many athletes post opinions without being completely aware of the legal and regulatory rules in their sports. Conflicts of interest, penalties, and public image are aspects they must consider when they use Twitter or Facebook.

Freedom of expression is a universal right. Yet, when an athlete broadcasts certain opinions, they can often clash with certain principles. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the sports world hasn’t yet caught up to the realities of social networks.

On the other hand, athletes are public figures. That means they have to assume certain media responsibilities with regard to the statements they make, comments they post or the replies they give.

Some famous cases

One of the most notorious cases of this involved the athlete Paraskevi Papachristou. She was called to represent her country at the Olympic Games in London.

A man taking a selfie with a phone.

Before the competition got underway, Papachristou allegedly sent a racist message via Twitter. The published text was the following: “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the Nile mosquitoes will have homemade food.”

This tweet was all the Olympic Committee needed to expel her without even allowing her to make her debut. People saw the statement as the total opposite of the nature, rules, and principles of the Olympics. Just as with this case, there are various others that are worth looking at.

For example, at the beginning of 2020, a Colombian runner lost their sponsorship because they kicked a dog during a competition. The unfortunate act went viral throughout social networks such as Facebook. The company believed this would tarnish their image and they terminated their contract.

Strikes against regulations and conflicts of interest

Athletes are individuals, but people tend to connect them to their bigger institutional groups. That’s to say, teams, leagues, sports, etc. In turn, these institutions make their athletes adhere to regulations, agreements, and principles. Often athletes post judgments and comments without considering this reality.

Expressing a personal opinion in a private space is understandable. However, doing it publicly can bring about all sorts of reactions. Then there are the advertising sponsors. An athlete with a contract may be expected to become the image of a global brand. If an athlete promotes something at odds with the company requirements, there’s a conflict of interest.

Athletes tend to be people with certain physical talents who’ve been involved in a sports environment their whole lives. Many of them don’t even know much about the regulations and principles of the institutions through which they make their living.

Added to this, these rules, principles, and policies tend to constantly be in flux.

Risks of social networks: negative perceptions

Athletes are also social role models. Beyond just their freedom of expression, they have social and institutional responsibilities. Sometimes, as is the case with European soccer, they’re basically commercial brands in and of themselves.

If you’re in this position, being careful with what you say on the internet is essential.

Athletes don’t have time to review all the changes in rules for their leagues. Nevertheless, it’s important for them to realize the social and cultural role their opinion plays.

Any inappropriate remark can have an impact on their professional image. That’s why social usage can be very risky for professional athletes.

Even less well-known athletes can be exposed for their statements on social networks. That’s why athletes need to be careful with their image and public statements. Getting a negative perception of someone is easy. This can ultimately bring all sorts of negative consequences along with it.

Consequences of using social networks

You have to remember that when you post something online, it’s seen all over the world. Anything you publish on social networks such as Twitter or Instagram can reach anywhere on the planet.

That’s why you have to think twice before you post something. And what’s more, athletes tend to have an even broader reach than other citizens.

Think about what you’re doing on the social network. Each athlete needs to think about what they want to gain by using their social network accounts. Using this as a basis, it’s generally a good idea to publish moderate content that serves to bolster the image they want to portray.

A woman using a cell phone without being aware of the risks of social networks.

Don’t put it all out there! We live in a world where the internet opinion has a lot of weight. Nevertheless, not everyone needs to know all of your opinions. Some opinions might be too rough for posting. Others could easily be misinterpreted.

It’s important for people to teach young athletes to use the internet in moderation. After all, this is going to be a critical factor in their future careers as professionals. In turn, high-performance athletes should think about whether they’re displaying the right public image to the world. That often entails negotiating the risks that social networks pose.

  • Gabriela Garton. 2015. La mujer deportista en las redes sociales: un análisis de los consumos deportivos. Revista hipertextos. Extraído de: http://revistahipertextos.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/garton.pdf
  • Enrico Marini. 2018. Las redes sociales como estrategia comunicativa en la especularización del deporte. Universidad Complutense Madrid. Extraído de: https://eprints.ucm.es/46097/1/T39121.pdf