In recent years, countless celebrities and other prominent public figures have faced criticism and reputational issues as result of offensive social media posts. Hate speech, misogyny, political controversy, criminal behavior and dangerous lifestyle choices are just a few obvious examples of these types of posts that have resulted in lasting career damage. This damage is not only done to the individual but also to the entities they are affiliated with, whether it be an employer, a sponsor or a brand.
We have seen that among public figures, sports stars and athletes are not immune to social media scrutiny. A notable recent example of this came in December 2020 when Pablo Matera, the captain of the Argentina Rugby team, was stripped of his captaincy and temporarily suspended by the Argentine Rugby Union (ARU). The ARU announced that the decision to suspend Matera, along with his two teammates Guido Petti and Santiago Socino, was as a result of “discriminatory and xenophobic" social media posts by the players between 2011 and 2013.
Not only has the incident resulted in career and reputational damage for the players, but it resulted in a likely unwelcome distraction for the team and diluted the success of Argentina’s historic win against the New Zealand All Blacks less than a month prior. The incident has also led to social media rumors suggesting that Argentina could lose support of Nike, their main sponsor.
This is by no means a singular incident within the world of sport, with other notable examples including the resurfacing of football manager Phil Neville’s historic sexist tweets made in 2014 and Andre Gray’s homophobic tweets made in 2012, which resulted in him being fined and suspended by the Football Association in 2016. Similarly, an offensive tweet posted by Australian Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice in 2010 resulted in her losing a lucrative sponsorship deal with the luxury car brand Jaguar.
These incidents span across a variety of sports disciplines, with athletes in golf, athletics, cricket, basketball and many others bringing themselves and their teams into disrepute following the discovery of historic offensive posts.
Given the increased use of social media among athletes, some of whom, like Matera, have posts that date as far back as 2011, it would make sense for sports teams, sponsors and governing bodies to proactively identify and address potential high-risk social media content posted by athletes.
Kroll is well placed to independently identifying high-risk social media. We have developed expertise and a sophisticated portfolio of tools designed to process vast amounts of social media data, across both standard and audio-visual platforms. We understand that not all risks are equal, and we carefully assess the setting of the content to provide clients with a more nuanced view of the risk posed by an athlete. Once risks are identified and assessed, Kroll can advise on how they can be managed and how the athlete can adopt a more constructive approach to social media going forward.