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Column: It's time to grow out of posting degrading comments on athletes' social media


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the journal that released a 2017 study analyzing the connection between social media and mental health in adults. It is the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The article has been updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Technological advances have made life easier, to be sure. But the rise of social media has also fed a rapidly growing mental health problem. 

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine released a study in 2017 that analyzed the connection between social media and mental health in young adults. The most alarming statistic found was that those who view social media platforms at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who use social media nine times per week or fewer.

In a world dominated by social media, apps that are designed to make people feel more connected might cause more harm than good. And it seems that media and fan scrutiny on these networking platforms also causes problems in sports for student-athletes. 

Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State's men's basketball team, took time out of his press conference following a loss to Penn State on Feb. 4 to call out individuals that were “abusing” some of his players on social media. 

"If there's any Michigan State people out there that are abusing some of my players on that freakin' Twitter, I'm sick of it," Izzo said. “... If they are Michigan State fans, I’m more than happy to buy their tickets, and I mean that." 

The head coach later took it a step forward and added, “I get paid a lot of money, so take your shots at me.”

Ahead of North Carolina's rivalry game against Duke on Feb. 8, the hosts of ESPN College GameDay took a moment during its broadcast from Chapel Hill to discuss Izzo’s remarks and the toxicity of social media in front of hundreds of college students.

While many in the audience clapped as Jay Bilas said people simply need to mute and block this type of behavior, other fans seemed to have forgotten the message behind the segment by that night. 

“Dude you were snorting cocaine two days before the game. I should glass the sugar out of u.” 

“Again you are the worst player to ever dawn a unc uniform absolute disgrace.”

“Please transfer."

These are a few of the comments that can be found under Andrew Platek’s most recent Instagram post from Nov. 27, 2019, after UNC lost to Duke in overtime this past weekend.

Based on the remarks, you probably wouldn’t have known that Platek, despite shooting 50 percent from the line and missing a few foul shots late, tied his season high with nine points that night, or that he had seven rebounds and five assists.

Hate from fans has become a norm within the athletic world, and now that social media has boomed, others hide behind their screens to post damaging comments. Sometimes they scream at games, hoping for serious injury to players, like Zion Williamson during last year’s UNC-Duke game.

People seem to forget that athletes are humans with real emotions and feelings just like everybody else. There’s a student under that jersey, someone’s kid, sibling or friend. On top of competing on a national stage, hours of practice, treatment sessions and team meetings, these student-athletes have class, homework and exams to worry about. 

While some say it may be on athletes to ignore and block this hate, why should they have to? Is it not on fans to refrain from posting hateful, degrading comments for all of the world to see? 

Society has never valued civility less than this moment, and social media is partly to blame. What once started as a great way to stay connected has turned into an enabler for toxic behavior, only exacerbating the mental health problem that plagues today’s society.  

If you think this behavior is OK, it’s time to grow up.

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