Reputations are on the line, on and off the field

Deakin University student Sarah Chand investigates social media, sport and reputation. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahChand2

A field of empty grey plastic stadium seats.

Even off the field, sportspeople are in the public eye.

WHILST social media might be great at building your public profile, it also has the potential to cause a lot of damage.
In Australia, sportspeople are idolised by the public and are scrutinised by the media. Fans want to hear what their star has to say, want to know what food they are eating for lunch and what they are doing on the weekend. Social media can be a great way for fans and stars to connect.
Whilst social media bridges the gap of interaction between fans and celebrities, any misuse by an athlete, sometimes even minor misuse, can severely damage their reputation.
Many athletes are positioned on a pedestal by their fans, acting as inspirations for young dreamers and “wannabes”. In Melbourne, AFL players in particular are idolised by the public. Yet with their admiration and large fan base comes responsibility.
Reputations are constantly in danger of being tarnished. It comes with the role of being a high-profile sportsman in a country that is obsessed with competition.
Criticism and analysis of their every move is simply inevitable and inescapable.
If you’re good enough, if you have a big enough fan-base, then everyone wants to know exactly what you’re doing at every moment. Sometimes traditional media helps the fans get what they want, but social media is particularly increasing the interaction and intimacy between players and fans.
Social media is beneficial in building an athlete’s public profile, yet also a precarious medium if used unwisely.
Richmond Football Club’s Communications Manager, Jaimee Damon, believes social media is an effective tool in improving reputations.
“Social media allows fans to see their favourite players as people rather than just players so it’s great they have that interaction with them…at the same time they are being briefed about how to use social media so they don’t put up anything that can be used against them in the future,” Jaimee says.
“Every time they Tweet it’s like a media release. Potentially anyone can see it.”
Triple M drive show producer Gill Goode has a different perspective.
“Social Media has hurt players,” Gill says.
“They can be caught in a compromising position and because every phone has a camera they have to be careful how they act.”
She draws an example from a recent incident with a football player at a concert.
“A couple of people were allegedly in his face, pushing him to the limit…someone was filming it and he ended up having a fight with someone. He got fined $5000 by his club and was nearly suspended.
“It’s now in the (traditional) media and on the front page because football sells. It used to be (these type of incidents were) just the football pages but now, in this town, football can be on the front page of the Herald Sun because they can’t wait to find someone who has done something wrong.”
It is notable that the reputation of Australian athletes is inescapably influenced by the media. Athletes are constantly under the microscope, as journalists wait for anything that can be used as their next headline. They pounce on indiscretion, indecency and public blunders.
It seems that’s what fans want, and that’s what they pay to read.
Athletes need to be cautious that they act as an example to the public at all times, because one minor mishap could lead to unanticipated and unimaginable consequences.

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