In a society where we are trying to ‘be kind’, why are we still hounding sports stars and celebrities?

After last year’s tragic news that Caroline Flack had taken her own life, following a whirlwind of press hounding and police investigations, people started to respond and become ‘kinder’.

High profile celebrities and close friends of the 40-year-old pleaded that things must change within the press and social media after she paid the ultimate sacrifice in taking her own life. Those friends and celebrities joined hundreds of thousands of people campaigning for ‘Caroline’s Law’. The law they were proposing was to look at the way that tabloid journalism reports on celebrities.

The TV presenter’s former boyfriend and close friend, Danny Cipriani took to social media to express his sadness and show his raw emotions. In the video he hoped to encourage everyone to be more sensitive and kind, but especially those in the public eye.

Following the fly-half’s social media post, Gloucester Rugby launched their ‘be kind’ campaign in the hope of raising awareness for mental health within society and rugby. The quick response by the club was praised throughout the rugby community as they tried to help people understand the importance of having good mental health. They also spread information on how to help those suffering from mental illness and the importance of understanding general mental health issues.

On Friday 28th February, Gloucester Rugby players carried the be kind message with them for their fixture against Sale. Printed across the back of all their shirts was one important message, be kind.

Embed from Getty Images

The mental health conversation isn’t just lacking within the game of rugby, it is lacking across society and in all sports. In a year where the world has been hit by a pandemic that no-one could have comprehended, the mental health conversation and positive message should be something happening daily. Sadly it is not.

How many times over the last few months have you seen nasty, spineless comments across social media directed at the Prime Minister, his cabinet and various MP’s?

Mental health in numbers

  • One in 10 children will suffer from a mental health issue
  • One in four adults will suffer from a mental health issue
  • One in six people are reporting they are suffering from a common mental health issue (depression or anxiety) every week
  • An average of 20.6 people out of 100 have had suicidal thoughts
  • In 2018, 6,507 people in the UK committed suicide
  • In the UK men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women
  • Suicide is the highest killer of men between the age of 45-49

If you type into the search bar of twitter, #bekind, thousands upon thousands of posts appear encouraging people to start to be kinder in the hope that less will suffer in silence or suffer at all from mental health.

But how can we continue to spread awareness for mental health and encourage people to start being nicer if tabloid press still produce celebrity gossip? Typically on how much weight someone weighs, whether they are wearing their wedding ring, or what they eat during the day.

Take a look at some of the tabloid headlines below that criticises a person for the way that they look, for what they are doing or may have said… These are the ‘normal’ headlines, not ones that have particularly been dug up to showcase my point. These are actually quite mild to some headlines that have been used in celebrity ‘news’.

It is easy to see how being in the public eye with so much pressure to do things ‘right’ that celebrities can often feel trapped, especially when these tabloid headlines coincide with internet trolls.

Take a look at some of the sports stories that have been printed by the British press. Ask yourself, what could these headlines do to the readers perception of these athletes and how could that effect not only a players mental health, but how it can provoke online abuse directed at that individual.

So what needs to happen?

If COVID-19 isolation can teach us one thing, it would be to start being nicer. Thousands of us have thanked the NHS, donated to care workers or phoned a friend to make sure they are ok.

One of the only ways for mental health illness figures to drop, or for suicide rates to decrease is if society starts excepting that no one is ever perfect. Being kind shouldn’t be something we strive to do, it should come naturally.

This relates back to rugby and every sport in many ways. Before you start shouting at a player because he has thrown a poor pass, missed a kick, given away a penalty or lost a match point, sit and think. This person is someones son, daughter, sister or brother. Would you like it if someone shouted abuse at you or your relation?

If you write abusive, racist, condescending messages on social media, sit and think again. If someone took to their keyboard the way that you do telling you that you are not good enough and should die, would you like it?

However, the public cannot take all the responsibility for deteriorating a public figure’s mental health. There needs to be a change on how tabloid media reports on sports personalities and celebrities. If this change doesn’t come, then we are in fear of living in a society that will never understand the effects that words can have on our mental health.

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