Tommy Lee: Footballers should think before tweeting discriminatory nonsense

Tommy Lee Columnist
Tommy Lee Columnist

It was revealed this week that football clubs are beginning to trawl the social media musings of potential signings for evidence of anything that might be construed as offensive or illegal.

For me, it’s a move that cannot come soon enough.

When I was growing up, I had heroes. I only saw them once a week, through tired eyes.

The Match of the Day theme tune was their calling card and a 17” portable television was my only window in to the lives of these players.

It was all I needed - 10 minutes of action, drama and skill. It’s all I wanted.

And, as Des Lynam said goodnight and the credits rolled, they were gone for another week.

I was happy. I’d close my eyes and dream of, one day, being like them, on that pitch, nothing else.

Of course, as I got older I realised that these people were just that, people.

They shared the same problems, fears, faults and inadequacies we all experience. That was fine because they still had that aura and mystery that professional athletes used to hold.

That is until social media widened the window into the lives of these men and women to the point we find ourselves at today.

Never has the saying ‘you should never meet your heroes’ been more apt.

The access we have in to the everyday happenings of our footballing heroes is vast.

We know where they are, who they are with, what they are doing, of their own volition, on a rolling news-like basis. The outcome can sometimes be unsavoury.

For a time it was intriguing, in the same way you might find a police car parked outside next door’s house intriguing.

I enjoyed reading that Gary Neville liked listening to Oasis or that Steven Gerrard enjoyed a round of golf.

The normality of these ‘tweets’ and Instagram updates eroded a little bit of the mystery that surrounded the footballing elite of yesteryear but they were trivial, harmless insights that we could all relate to.

Unfortunately, it’s not just Neville’s love of Oasis or Gerrard’s fondness for a round of golf we are privy to anymore. For a small number of professional footballers, at its best, social media is now used as a means of self-congratulation and self-promotion.

We are treated to the passive aggressive ramblings of players who aren’t happy with the fans or manager and get numerous reminders of some of the trappings that landing a large contract can bring, regardless of any actual achievement in the game.

As unedifying as this can be, it’s not illegal and can often be quite entertaining.

But, at its worst, on the platform that social media provides, we see professionals, young and old, incomprehensibly posting offensive racist, homophobic and sexist nonsense more often than we should.

Since 2011, The Football Association has collected almost £500,000 in fines relating to social media posts deemed threatening, indecent, abusive or insulting, not to mention the amount of games players have missed in bans and suspensions.

Of course, the real issue is that a small minority still hold these outdated and offensive views and in that sense it is a reflection of the society we live in.

Strides have been taken by The Professional Footballer’s Association to educate its players on the issue of discrimination and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of social media, which is a step in the right direction.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the privilege of playing professional football comes with a responsibility to the game but also to the millions of impressionable youngsters that follow it.

It is vital that the message we portray as players is conducive to an all-inclusive sport that doesn’t marginalise anybody on the grounds of race, gender or sexuality.

The monitoring of social media by football clubs and the potential threat to future earnings that any discovery of offensive posts might bring isn’t a cure all but it could just be the warning that players need.

At the very least it will make us think before we tweet.