FIFPRO, NBPA, and WNBPA Launch Collaboration to Strengthen Player Protection against Online Abuse
FIFPRO, NBPA, and WNBPA Launch Collaboration to Strengthen Player Protection against Online Abuse
New report commissioned by FIFPRO, the NBPA, and the WNBPA examines online abuse of professional athletes, offering compelling evidence around its incidence and impact
NEW YORK, NY, AND HOOFDDORP, THE NETHERLANDS, May 31, 2022 - Football Players Worldwide (FIFPRO), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) today release the first international study looking at the nature and level of online abuse directed at professional athletes in multiple sports. The study, which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track social media accounts, was commissioned by the three player associations in order to better understand the frequency and types of online abuse their members face. The collaboration represents a commitment to find common ground and synergies between the unions and athletes of the two biggest global team sports, and act together to counter the abuse.
Players at Risk: Key Findings and Report Summary
Top athletes around the world have a higher profile than ever, and many play an important role not only in their sport but in society. By using their social media platforms to raise awareness in the causes they believe in, they drive positive social change in communities. Nevertheless, whilst high visibility is seen by some as “part of the job”, the heightened scrutiny and increased connectivity also carries threats for their mental health and well-being.
The report exposes the extent of online abuse towards players: its frequency, volume and the dangers it presents.
The study detected 1,558 targeted abusive posts sent from 1,455 unique accounts across selected sports and competitions from July to September 2021, and retrieved historical data from May and June 2021. The findings include 648 abusive tweets directed at men’s basketball players, 427 abusive tweets directed at men’s football players, 398 abusive tweets directed at women’s football players, and 85 abusive tweets directed at women’s basketball players.
Racism and homophobia accounted for the overwhelming majority of verified targeted abuse towards men’s football players (in 85% of cases) and basketball players (74% of cases). Four out of five instances of abuse directed at women’s basketball players included sexually explicit or harassment messages.
The report identifies systemic trends that harm athletes and recommends collective action to protect those at the heart of the game.
- Players in different sports have similar risk profiles and suffer horrific work-related online abuse impacting mental well-being, lifestyle and performance.
- Online abuse follows similar patterns across sports and jurisdictions.
- Abuse creates an environment in which the personalities of players come under sustained attack, forcing them to hide or withdraw from who they are and want to be.
- Whilst there are means to protect players against online abuse, safety measures are often not sufficiently implemented.
Joint Commitments and Actions
The rapid integration of virtual spaces, designed to bring people together, make athletes vulnerable to those who want to spread hate, anger and prejudice.
It is the duty of unions to protect players, ensure their safety and support their desire for action. FIFPRO, the NBPA and the WNBPA are committed to delivering capacity-building initiatives that educate players about online abuse and drawing on existing and new mental-health programs to protect the vulnerabilities of players.
While taking on these responsibilities, FIFPRO, the NBPA and the WNBPA believe that collaborative and coordinated industrial action is required amongst online platforms, governments, teams and competition organizers to protect players against online abuse.
As societies face more polarization and fragmentation, we all have an institutional responsibility to work together to create a more inclusive, open and kinder environment, driving initiatives that foster a positive and respectful culture.
“This report highlights that some of the most abused players were targeted as they changed clubs whilst others saw abuse in relation to on-field issues,“ said David Aganzo, President of FIFPRO. “While the analysts also recognized players being targeted due to club rivalries or perceptions of their character we must seek better cooperation amongst all stakeholders in the game to better protect those people that create the game in the first place.”
FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said: “The study shows us that when athletes share and embrace who they are as individuals, and engage in causes they care deeply about, they become a target for online abuse. This is both outrageous and heartbreaking. It’s our job as unions to help protect football and basketball players from the kind of casual hate speech the report shows is prevalent by offering them advice and mental-health support. We must also impress on social media companies and institutions their collective responsibility to join us in safeguarding players and promoting an online community that fosters inclusion and respect.”
“We came together to conduct this study because all three of our organizations exist to protect, support and amplify our players,” said Tamika Tremaglio, Executive Director of the NBPA. “As players’ unions, we know that our players are regularly subjected to online and social media abuse, but the impact of seeing the results from this study was extremely alarming and disheartening. Our collective goal is to use these findings as a starting point for the entire sports industry to do more to increase the level of protection for our athletes and in general, promote a kinder, more empathetic and respectful society.”
"What I hope comes out of this report is a heightened sense of responsibility across all social media platforms,” said Terri Carmichael Jackson, Executive Director, WNBPA. “And I want to have honest conversations with potential new partners to help them understand that an athlete’s social media engagement may not be the determinable or relevant factor when considering her for marketing opportunities.”
The report encompasses public social data and includes posts directed at athletes on Twitter as well as additional public flashpoints on other platforms.
Within this study, targeted online abuse is defined as threats to life or family, discriminatory language based on race, religion, sexuality, and other factors as well as any specialized terms with defined intent to be abusive in the context of the specific player, team or region. FIFPRO, the NBPA, and the WNBPA designed a scope of study to cover 80 representative players in each sport with a combined following of approximately 200 million Twitter users.
FIFPRO is the global representative organization for more than 65,000 professional men’s and women’s football players. FIFPRO and its 66 affiliated national player associations are committed to improving the lives of players around the world. FIFPRO’s own knowledge center, Player IQ Hub, provides an important source of player-centric expertise for this study.
About the NBPA
The National Basketball Players Association is the union for current professional basketball players in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Established in 1954, the NBPA’s mission is to protect and support the rights and talents of our players, magnify the power of their collective will, and amplify their voices as leaders who will transcend sport and society globally.
The NBPA advocates on behalf of the best interests of all NBA players, including through the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements, the filing of grievances on behalf of the players, and counseling players on benefits, as well as educational and post-NBA career opportunities. Business opportunities are generated by THINK450, the subsidiary of the NBPA charged with managing the players’ group licensing rights.
Dedicated to preserving the legacy of its members, the NBPA Foundation provides support and assistance to persons, communities and organizations around the world that seek to improve the lives of those in need.
About the WNBPA
Established in 1998, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association is the first of its kind and longest-running union for women athletes. The purpose of the WNBPA is to protect the rights of players and assist them in achieving their full potential on and off the court. The members of the WNBPA are phenomenal and accomplished athletes. Union members play in the WNBA; and many play for and represent this country in World Championships and the Olympic Games. They play around the world and are, without a doubt, global ambassadors for the sport.
About Signify Group and Threat Matrix
Threat Matrix (www.threatmatrix.ai) is a bespoke AI-driven service developed by data science company Signify Group to protect athletes, officials, management and media personalities from online threat and abuse. The service is available for clubs, leagues, national associations and international confederations to protect players, athletes and staff and can be deployed in multiple jurisdictions, platforms and languages.
Alex Duff, Head of Media Relations
National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)
Elle Hagedorn, Director, Media Relations & Communications
Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA)
Jonathan Hirshler, CEO, Signify Group
 This study was conducted by Signify Group using their specialist online threat intelligence service - Threat Matrix, a machine learning methodology that detects, quantifies and analyses abusive language on social media, or within direct messages.