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Internet Flaming Taking Toll on Sports Stars

Posted August. 11, 2010 11:34,   


Huh Jung-moo led the national soccer team to the World Cup’s second round this year, a first for the country on foreign soil. He resigned as coach shortly after his squad’s exit from the tournament, however.

On a recent TV talk show, Huh said he stopped reading Internet comments by netizens after one user wrote after the death of Huh’s father in 2002 that the coach deserved to have his father die.

New national coach Cho Kwang-rae, who had a friendly image while coaching a professional team in the domestic K-League and was nicknamed “kindergarten principal,” is not immune from Internet flaming, either.

“The number of negative Internet comments against me has increased for no reason since I became the coach of the national team,” he said with a bitter look on his face. “It seems the more attention I get, the more malicious comments about me float on the Internet.”

○ Flaming of sports stars evolves

Offensive comments on the Internet are nothing new to celebrities who thrive on popularity. High-profile suicides of certain top stars show that they were hurt by malicious messages, and sports stars are no less exposed to Internet flaming.

In 2008, Choi Hong-man, a kickboxer and mixed martial artist, wrote on his Internet mini-homepage: “Who can understand how I feel? I just want to die.” He was responding to the tremendous volume of malicious or insulting Web comments against him after being injured.

Veteran basketball center Seo Jang-hoon also said in an interview: “I no longer like articles saying good things about me. I get a slew of malicious comments regardless of what the articles say.”

In 2007, when many Internet users posted flames against the national Olympic soccer team, rising star Ki Sung-yueng wrote on his mini homepage: “If you don’t like our play, why don’t you play?” Netizens gave him a rough time for making this comment.

In the past, malicious comments mostly targeted sports stars with problems. Now, they are indiscriminate.

Hwang Sang-min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, “These days, when a sports star is exposed to the media, they first get good comments on the Internet. Before you know it, these comments turn malicious. Figure skater Kim Yu-na and swimmer Park Tae-hwan, who were called the people’s little sister or brother, are not immune to Internet flaming.”

○ Deep trauma

How do sports start cope with Internet flaming? Pop culture commentator Lee Moon-won said players are the same as ordinary people.

“While entertainment stars strive to raise their image and consider malicious comments as signs of public interest in them, sports stars are more sensitive and vulnerable,” he said.

In a Dong-A Ilbo survey of 20 athletes subject to Internet flaming, half of them said they were “conscious” about malicious comments and four others said “very sensitive.” Eight said they avoided meeting people because of flaming, with three even saying they once regretted pursuing a sports career.

Experts say Internet flaming is focused on popular athletes because the public tends to consider sports a realm of pure amateurs. Pop culture commentator Kim Hun-sik said, “The masses want innocence from sports stars. When they fail to meet such expectations, people post malicious messages.”

Another reason is that fans tend to identify with sports stars. Fans consider athletes as representative of the group they belong to, so malicious messages proliferate when sports stars fail to meet expectations.

“In the past, sports in Korea played the role of a medium that gave vicarious satisfaction to the people when the country was poor,” commentator Lee said. “As a result, sports stars are forced to serve the public good rather than pursuing their own interests and the standards applied to them have become strict.”

With the Internet’s growing influence and fiercer competition, certain media outlets are resorting to sensational headlines and inaccurate articles, causing Internet users to post malicious messages.

niceshin@donga.com noel@donga.com