GAA Football

Colm Cavanagh: #BeKind doesn't last long when sport resumes

"I am under no illusion that if social media had been as prevalent in society 13 years ago as it is today, I would never have lasted as a Tyrone footballer for as long as I did" - Colm Cavanagh
Colm Cavanagh

INSTAGRAM, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat - even listing their names takes up more time that I would like to dedicate to social media.

I have accounts on most of these platforms but have considered many, many times over the past few months of deleting them all.

To me, social media and the pressures associated with it, have the potential to be detrimental to our mental health and, ironically, our social skills.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good can come of social media and when it is used as a platform for creating awareness of charitable events or for promoting business it is priceless.

That said, I am under no illusion that if social media had been as prevalent in society 13 years ago as it is today, I would never have lasted as a Tyrone footballer for as long as I did.

With the League starting over the weekend we saw a flurry of new faces across the teams all making an impact on their first run out.

It is an exciting time for everyone to see teams in action but I noticed immediately that I was checking the players’ social channels to find out more about them.

Our first instinct has become to lift our phone and form an opinion on someone based solely on the image they have created for themselves online.

We don’t know these people personally but we have decided by looking at a few photos online what we think of them?

“He’s only there because he is Sean’s brother.”

“He’s not a midfielder, there’s no such thing any more.”

“Puke football.”

We have come to expect abuse like this when we are on the pitch.

In the heat of competition there are things said, both on and off the field, which have no place anywhere. I consider myself lucky enough that my personal experiences of sledging have been minimal.

I’m sure there are plenty of times over the years I have done something on the field to annoy people, but it was before the times of being a target of online abuse as soon as the event happened.

When it comes to direct messages and trolls I personally try to let it all wash over me. I just don’t allow it in.

I have no notifications active and no desire for likes so it never goes any further.

When there is no reaction or airtime for the faceless keyboard warrior to feed off, they soon move on.

I can guarantee from experience that the same people that are hurling the abuse are the first to congratulate you when things are going well and boost your ego with false praise. Fickle.

I have seen first-hand the abuse and hatred that is regularly sent to lads by people who think ‘they are well fit for it’ or ‘they will never see it’.

These keyboard warriors have a lot to answer for and I could list numerous people I know who have had to delete some, or all, platforms of social media because the ‘banter’ just got too much to deal with and it began to have an impact on their mental health.

There was a wave of #bekind messages early last year and yet as soon as sport restarted players and management were immediately considered easy targets for online abuse.

Soccer, rugby, GAA, our own clubmates, everyone is considered fair game simply because they have a social media account.

Sport is competitive and pressurised enough as it is without an added layer of dreading feedback and abuse every time we take part.

I am a naturally fiercely competitive person. It’s just who I am.

So if I see one of my team-mates running faster or lifting heavier than me, I naturally do all I can to better myself and be the best.

Lockdown 5km times became the subject of many club WhatsApp groups and the competition was a great buzz in times when people needed a boost.

That is, until some felt the pressure and started to pause the clock to rest and restart so as not to post a ‘poor’ or ‘slow’ time. That wasn’t the point at all. I find it genuinely sad that people don’t have the confidence to just be themselves.

The people I follow on social media are mostly sports people; Man Utd players, NBA & NFL players, @MoysPhillyMc…

I see things like Anthony Joshua’s gym sessions and can only be in awe of the work he puts in and what he puts his body through.

I know I could never do what he does so I don’t compare myself to him and I think it is important we know our own potential rather than thinking ‘if he is doing that then I should be too’.

I would bet he couldn’t last 70 minutes in Croke Park with 80,000 people shouting at him.

We have to know our lane and stick in it. Be the best in your lane absolutely, but know what value you add rather than trying to emulate someone else.

Everyone has good days and bad days in the field of sport. Believe me when I say that, as players, we are our own harshest critics.

We don’t need keyboard warriors reminding us of our mistakes and compounding the pain of defeat on our shoulders.

Give it all a break. A positive mindset is worth more than all the likes in the world, I can guarantee it.

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