CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Social media has turned into a battlefield for many professional athletes — bombarded with hate messages. It’s a problem they say must stop.
Sloane Stephens’s loss to Angelique Kerber in the third round of the U.S. Open Friday wasn’t just a tournament loss it led to brutal outlines attacks and threats to harm her on Instagram account.
The 28-year-old revealed harassing and threatening messages she received following the match.
On Instagram, she wrote, “I am human; after last night’s match, I got 2k + messages of abuse/anger from people upset by yesterday’s result. It’s so hard to read messages like these, but I’ll post a few so you guys can see what it’s like after a loss…”
One message is filled with racial slurs and threats to sexual assault her. Another person threatened to find her and destroy her legs so she can’t walk anymore.
Top athletes say the online harassment is much bigger than just Stephens’s latest attacks.
“But it’s really hard to control because the people come to your page directly,” said Taylor Townsend, a professional tennis athlete, who says she too has faced similar comments for years.
“I’ve been called the n-word, any type of word that can describe being fat, anytime word that can describe being black, like, every, like, under the sun, honestly. And it’s not just recently; it’s just become more prevalent within the last couple of years. but like this has been going on, honestly, since I’ve gotten on social media.”
Townsend took part in campaigns to stop the hate online. But she believes much more needs to be done to protect players from hate speech.
“I think that there has to be some sort of either third party company that is hired to the tournament, or that the WETA and the ACP may be combined, where they are filtering, and being able to monitor like, you know, some of the things in terms of what people,” she said.
Townsend continued, “and once people know that there are repercussions for abusing people like that, even via the internet, then I feel like it’ll be a little bit more controlled.”
Many of the threats Stephens received were on Instagram. Facebook, which owns the social media platform, has not responded to NewsNation’s request for comment yet.
When it comes to stopping abuse online, experts say the power right now really is in our hands. For example, if you see an abusive comment to you or someone else, they recommend reporting the comment, then blocking the person. They also recommend that you don’t engage in a back and forth with someone because engaging only validates their response.
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