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For college female athletes, there is now a growing risk of harassment across all social media platforms. This goes beyond simple trolling by rival fans – it includes sexual harassment, threats of violence, and even hate speech. What’s worse, this trend only seems to be accelerating, due to the inability or unwillingness of the major social media platforms to shut down this behavior. In short, the abuse of female athletes is going unchecked across social media, and that’s a real problem.
What is behind this disturbing new trend?
There are a number of theories for why the harassment of female athletes is growing across social media. The easiest answer, of course, is that social media has become a nasty, hate-filled place to spend your time. Trolls abound everywhere, and many users hide behind a veil of anonymity in order to post comments that are simply too odious to describe, especially when they involve race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Another explanation is that this new phenomenon is simply the negative side of the social influencer trend that has taken over college sports. At one time, college athletes had no ability to monetize their social media presence. Now, the NCAA has given them nearly carte blanche to make as much money as possible via social media. So, as more young teenage girls put themselves out there in hopes of making money online, it’s perhaps only natural to expect that there will be a corresponding amount of harassment.
But perhaps the best explanation for the rise in harassment comes from, of all places, ESPN. While some might claim that ESPN hasn’t been relevant in years, due to the growth of new social media-centric platforms like Barstool Sports or Bleacher Report, there is one thing that ESPN knows: the rise in legalized sports gambling over the past five years has corresponded with the rise of hate speech directed against athletes on social media.
Gamblers aren’t just concerned about winning the game – they are concerned about prop bets, covering the spread, and over/unders. Thus, there are a growing number of ways that athletes can be responsible for them losing money. And that’s especially the case if there’s a lot of “action” on a big, nationally televised game. That’s when gamblers can lose big. When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before they start leveling abuse at the people they think are responsible. In some cases, they are actually threatening physical violence after a missed shot or a failed kick.
How to fix the problem?
Based on the above, there are several potential ways to fix the problem. One, parents can turn to the colleges and universities, and require them to take a bigger role. Most notably, universities could create social media support teams that can help athletes deal with the problem on a case-by-case basis.
At the same time, universities need to address the growing influence of sports gambling in college sports. It’s gone way beyond just wagering a few bucks on college hoops during “March Madness.” University administrators have to realize that college sports has become a business, and that means acknowledging how much money is sloshing through the system these days.
Another solution is to involve the social media platforms directly. Lawmakers might need to drag them in front of Congress in order to force them to do a better job of policing their platforms.
Taking action now is the right step. Too many teenagers are being pushed into the spotlight these days, without ever realizing the dark side of college sports. They need people to protect and support them, or else our society could be at the brink of yet another mental health crisis for young teens.