Last week, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield announced he would be quitting social media for the foreseeable future, citing the toxic environment he faced after a tumultuous season. The Heisman Trophy winner, who was selected by the Browns’ first overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, is just the latest athlete to throw in the towel when it comes to social media platforms.
Today, it’s all too common for athletes and celebrities to find themselves in the crosshairs of criticism – and it can often be extremely personal. This type of criticism affects everyone mentally and athletes feel it as much as anyone else.
“It affects them the same way it affects anyone else,” explained Tom Kannon, DNP, PMHNP-BC, assistant dean of online graduate nursing and assistant professor at Regis College.
“Constant criticism can lead to negative self-talk, low self-esteem, frustration, irritability,” Kannon warned. “If this continues long enough, it could lead to depression and anxiety.”
While successful people tend to have good supports and coping mechanisms already established – and this can help buffer them against such negativity – if they are inundated long enough, it will erode even the strongest psyche.
“For some people, criticism can lead to lower self-esteem and increased thoughts of self-harm,” Kannon added. “For others, it could eventually create a synthesis to refocus and ‘rise the challenge’ to prove their critics wrong. A lot of how that plays out depends on the person’s view of them. itself, of its self-concept.”
Many of us like to think we don’t care what other people think of us, but that’s often not the case. For an athlete who is in the spotlight, negative comments can be impossible to escape.
“Criticism can affect people mentally and behaviorally,” noted Dr. Nathaniel N. Ivers, associate professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University. “It can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as lower self-esteem. It can also affect how people perceive and relate to others, such as increased emotional reactivity or a isolation from others, as well as greater defensiveness.”
Social media makes it easier than ever for fans – and critics – to tear down athletes like never before. Baker Mayfield saw the need to take a step back from the harmful comments he was exposed to on the platforms.
The Schadenfreude effect
One of the biggest problems today is that social media allows individuals to be subject to such personal attacks on a public platform.
“There is a psychological concept called Schadenfreude that suggests people tend to find joy in learning about, witnessing, or participating in another person’s problems or failures,” Ivers added. “In fact, studies suggest that people with low self-esteem tend to experience more joy in witnessing someone’s humiliation or failures than people with higher self-esteem. Part vitriol that professional athletes, politicians, and celebrities face in the media and on social media can be explained by Schadenfreude.People with low self-esteem engage in an unfortunate attempt to bolster their psychological serenity by knocking down someone else.
While Schadenfreude exists in all relational contexts, social media could provide people with unprecedented access to high profile people.
“It’s important for people to protect themselves from toxic environments that degrade their self-esteem and mental well-being,” Ivers said. “It can still hurt athletes or high profile personalities to know that people think negatively of them and probably talk about it on social media, but the effect will be less than if they consume the negativity directly and constantly.”
A celebrity, a brand
Where the problem gets complicated – especially for athletes – is that they are sometimes more than one person. They are brand ambassadors and part of their livelihood comes from their ability to market products. As social media is used to promote these brands, it can be difficult for athletes to opt out of these platforms.
“Baker Mayfield is a human being, entitled to many freedoms, but he is also a professional athlete and a brand,” explained Melissa Davies, Ph.D., assistant professor of sports administration at the University. from Ohio.
“He represents his own brand, the Browns and the NFL, as well as other companies he supports,” Davies said. “Each of these partnerships is confirmed by a contractual agreement which dictates the precise relationship and duties owed between Mayfield and the organization. On the one hand, therefore, Mayfield must consider his own welfare and that of his family, while weighing the contractual arrangements and earning potential he has as a public figure.”
Brands routinely pay large sums to work with professional athletes, who then endorse their products through advertising in their commercials, print and digital ads, and on social media. Sometimes these brands feature athletes on their company’s social media pages, but more often today the brand will pay the athlete or celebrity to post the advertisement or endorsement on their company’s social media pages. fame as a form of influencer marketing.
“Brands then gain the advantage of placing themselves in front of the athlete’s broad and targeted audience,” Davies said. “While these contracts may be lucrative to supplement the athlete’s other sources of income, having and engaging with social media is not part of the Cleveland Browns or NFL contractual obligations for athletes. So it seems that Mayfield weighed his own earning potential on social media with the possibility of reducing tensions in his personal life and stepped down.”
Time Out – But will it help?
For Mayfield, he may disconnect from social media, but today there’s no escaping what’s being said — probably even more so than trying to avoid the TV or the newspaper. In fact, the news of Mayfield’s departure from social media has only put him back in the spotlight – where articles like this now focus on the reasons why. Even those who can not have followed football may suddenly experience the problems they have faced on and off the pitch this season.
Still, leaving social media could have some benefits for Mayfield — as well as others who find the platforms more negative than positive.
“Leaving social media can definitely have a positive impact on the individual,” Kannon said. “Removing all negativity from your life can reduce stress, much like the old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’. One of the hardest things for elite athletes and people to do high profile is to find a way to leave all the negative comments behind because they will more than likely see them on TV, in newspapers/magazines and on the internet in general not just social media.”
By taking a break from social platforms, Mayfield won’t face the deluge of negativity.
“(He might) still be aware of the criticism, but the benefit would be twofold,” Kannon continued. “First, the exposure to criticism would certainly be reduced; two reviews in newspapers, magazines, news/TV would have an identity to accompany the review instead of it coming from an anonymous source which allows the no one to more accurately weigh the credulity of the comment.”