The positives and negatives of athletes having social media accounts are very well documented. For every story of athletes having fun interactions with their fans or using their platform to promote a cause that is important to them, there are as many, or more, stories of often nameless, faceless people lobbing horrific, unnecessary abuse at athletes via their social media pages.
Liverpool right back Neco Williams was the victim of one of these barrages of hate after Liverpool’s 7-2 victory over Lincoln City in the third round of the Carabao Cup. In the second half of the match, Williams unsuccessfully attempted to dribble his way through two Lincoln City players in his own half, losing the ball in the process. Lincoln City was able to turn the dispossession into their first goal.
While this mistake did lead directly to a goal, it’s the kind of mistake you’d expect to see from a 19-year-old, and with the goal only cutting the Liverpool lead from 5 to 4, it wasn’t exactly a match changing event. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop online trolls from harassing Williams to the point that he felt it necessary to blackout his profile and cover photos on Twitter and go silent.
Liverpool assistant manager, Pepijn Lijnders, condemned the abuse received by the Welsh defender during his press conference in the leadup to Liverpool’s 4th round Carabao Cup meeting with Arsenal.
“It is not for me to comment on social media,” Lijnders said. “The only thing I can say is abuse is wrong. Through social media, on the street, it is wrong.”
He also had very strong words for any supposed Liverpool supporters that participated in the abuse:
“Second, you are not a Liverpool supporter if you don’t support.”
Lijnders did take the time to mention that Williams received words of encouragement from several of his teammates.
“Trent (Alexander-Arnold) spoke with him, Virgil (van Dijk) spoke with him, Robbo (Andrew Robertson) spoke with him - so it’s not only Jurgen (Klopp) or me,” added Lijnders. “It’s how we take care of each other and that’s what makes us different.”
The Liverpool assistant manager went on to praise the young defender’s willingness to take risks and his handling of the abuse he received.
“We don’t want safe play, a player who doesn’t take risks. Our game is based on everyone taking the initiative from each position, and that is what we want,” said Lijnders. “One of the most important lessons for each young boy who is coming through, each player, is that it is a weakness if you can get caught up in praise and criticism. I think he dealt with it really well, to be honest.”
It’s really heartbreaking that so many athletes have to put up with the abuse that is almost inevitable when they maintain a social media presence.
In those times, it’s extremely important to have outspoken support from teammates and coaches. Pep Lijnders speaking up on Neco’s behalf and asserting that the coaching staff are happy with the way the talented youngster plays is a very encouraging step. Now, it’s up to Neco Williams overcome this adversity and show that he will not be stymied by online hate.