Two athletes have already been banned from competing after posting racist and violent Tweets. Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella vented his anger at the South Koreans after a loss. Before the games began, Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was banned for remarks about African immigrants. It’s implied that Papachristou’s remarks were politically motivated, but clearly Morganella’s motivation was anger at a loss. Not that anger is a good excuse, but we’ve all said things we wish we could take back, though most of us never said it so loud and so publicly.
The guy really regretting his words is the teen who posted harassing and threatening Tweets aimed at UK diver Tom Daley. After posting that he was going to find Daley and drown him, the police showed up and put the excited Tweeter under arrest. Excessive? Hard to say. The boy was in the UK and it was one in a series of escalating posts, so in this case safe is better than sorry.
Though it doesn’t always feel like it, social media is still new. We’re still learning how to leverage it and we’re still surprised by the great power and reach. Add in the high emotion of Olympic Competition and the mix of cultures that don’t get along on their best day, how can it NOT go wrong?
In all fairness to Twitter, they aren’t the only means of communication getting athletes into trouble. US swimmer Tyler Clary got called out for unkind words about his teammate Michael Phelps, not on social media, but in the local newspaper. Phelps got in a sarcastic jab of his own in front of the press when he said, “Some people like to express their feelings in words. Some like to express them in action. I’ve always done that by swimming, and that’s how I’ll continue to do it.”
We like to put our Olympic athletes up on a pedestal, both figuratively and literally. We see them as professionals and we hold them to a higher standard than the average person. But the truth is, except for these few weeks every couple of years, the majority of these athletes are students and workers who have to go back to the mundane when all this is over. And since there’s not a lot of call for professional table tennis players, most are working outside their preferred field like trash collector and weight lifter Natasha Perdue.
I don’t condone threats or racists comments on Twitter, in the press or in person, but it feels like we’re looking for trouble on social media and so we’re finding it. There’s a lot at stake here and people are going to slip up. Whether it’s a fall off the balance beam or a fall from grace online, it’s going to hurt but it might hurt less if we didn’t dwell on it.
I’ll end with my favorite Tweet of the day:
Now that’s what I call capturing the true spirit of the Olympics.
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