The toxic environment of social media once had such an impact on Brighton native Jason Steele that he lost interest in his football career.
The birth of social media has brought fans closer to their favorite athletes and stars, but that closeness comes at a price as abusers also have easier access to their targets. Steele enjoyed a resurgence this season under Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi, but there was a point at which the Durham native hated “everything” about the sport.
“There was a time when I was down, really down, to the point where I didn’t even care about playing football anymore,” Steele said during a recent appearance on BBC Radio’s Monday Night Club 5 lives. “I’m not afraid of it. I know I can bounce back from this, so failure no longer scares me.”
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While the keeper is celebrating his late Premier League breakthrough, Steele hit a rock bottom when he was relegated to back-to-back Championship relegation with Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland. The 32-year-old spoke about how the outside pressure he faced online was projected onto his loved ones.
“There was a point where I hated football, I hated everything that came with it,” he added. “It’s the chaos that social media wreaks — it keeps you busy and you carry it around all the time like a big burden on your shoulders.”
“You don’t behave and it’s difficult to be around you and that made me stop loving football a lot. That was the turning point – it was like, ‘How do I come to be myself?’ ‘In love with the game again?’ I managed to do that down here.”
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Jason Steele considered quitting football due to online abuse (Image: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Steele made little appearances for Brighton for four seasons after joining the club in 2018, during which time he made just one Premier League appearance for the club. However, he has taken a more prominent place in the squad this season after De Zerbi promoted him above Spain international Robert Sanchez in the pecking order.
The issue of footballer abuse on social media was recently highlighted after relegation-threatened Leeds spoke out against the criticism leveled at striker Patrick Bamford after a missed penalty against Newcastle. Steele went on to say such disappointments are part of football, noting that such abuse also affects “our families, children and women”.
Leeds striker Patrick Bamford has been subjected to a barrage of abuse after missing a penalty against Newcastle (Image: Getty Images)
“People sitting there writing these things don’t understand the impact. We are all human, we all feel things, we all have emotions,” he continued. “I’m completely screwed and don’t need it. I’m old and smart enough to know when I’ve had a good game and when I’ve had a bad game. I don’t need people to tweet me and tell me this and that.” That.
“You’ve been playing a game and looking at your phone and some of what’s being said … It’s been 10 years and I think it’s escalated so much lately.”