Rebecca Marino’s decision to walk away from professional tennis has been greeted with wide spread praise. As it should be. The 22-year-old Vancouver native was on pace to become Canada’s next star, joining Milos Raonic in creating an unprecedented Canadian youth movement. Sitting down with the New York Times’s Ben Rothenberg for an interview earlier this week, Marino explained how her sudden rise to fame – she rose form number 192 to 38 in one year – came with its pitfalls, namely, exposure to the internet jackals who live to troll.
Things were being written about me, and I’m quite sensitive about that. And I’m quite nosy, so I’ll look it up. And then I’ll realize I shouldn’t have looked it up.
More importantly, Marino had been dealing with depression for six years. She took a break from the game, returning in September of last year after feeling restless away from the court. Her comeback lasted only a few months.
Naturally, Canada’s most popular sports columnists – Bruce Arthur, Steve Simmons and Damien Cox – covered Marino’s retirement. That’s a credit to them. If the story isn’t about Raonic in a Grand Slam, or Raonic winning a tour event, tennis stories are often left for the back pages beside the local weather report.
They also deserve praise for covering the most important aspect of the story. Mental depression can affect anyone, even those perceived to have the so called ‘good life’. While the corporate aspect of Bell Let’s Talk was disconcerting, a day devoted to removing the stigma surrounding mental health was a positive step forward.
Most interestingly though, was how social media related to the trio of Arthur, Simmons and Cox. Marino said she couldn’t help but search for her name to see what people were saying, but cyber bullying extends to high profile members of the media as well. Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman was once advised to Google himself in order to make sure nothing about him online was a lie or incorrect, advice he later admitted to regretting.
Twitter gives a voice to everyone; just search Joel Ward’s name after he scored the winning goal in Game 7 against Boston last year, or P.K. Subban’s when he scores, or whomever.
She was a perceived victim of cyberbullying, the way many of us are victims of cyberbullying. There is so much hatred out there today from anonymous cowards. It comes in many forms and in her case she had trouble ignoring the worst.
Two weeks ago, someone purporting to be a fan of the Vancouver Canucks said he hoped someone else would slit my throat. You try to engage, then argue, then you block access to those who are the worst of the worst, and finally you just learn to ignore it all and use social media for your own ends.
Twitter Search the names of the three writers above – most especially the latter two – and you’ll see they’re not exaggerating. The racial abuse hurled at Gurdeep Ahluwalia and Nabil Karim was reprehensible. As a person of Indo-Canadian descent it hit close to home. Contrary to what noted academics Seuss, Silverstein and Berenstain have said, people can be really terrible.
I’ve hated on columns by Arthur, Simmons and Cox before, but that’s never led me to hurl abuse (aggressive sarcasm is not abuse) at them. What I find interesting however, is their response to valid criticism, which often devolves into the petty name calling they claim to detest. Lumping in the hoards of brainless idiots with those who wish to partake in civil debate helps no one, and facilitates the idea that media elite have no time for the common people who want to challenge their opinions. That’s pretty much the point of Twitter.
Marino’s situation was different. Degenerate gamblers and unhinged super fans flooded her mentions with invective language regarding her weight. Trying to avoid that, while dealing with depression at 22-years-old is something I wish upon nobody. Her work ethic and drive brought her to the top 40 in the world. Whether she plays again or not doesn’t matter. Reconnecting with her loved ones and finding solace in a normal life is the goal. Best of luck.
Twitter gives a megaphone to everyone. That’s normally a good thing. For the mega columnists who can reach a wide swathe of the population that comes with its pitfalls. How they handle it says a lot. We’re not all enemies, waiting under the bridge with an axe to grind. Let’s talk.