The brutal online comment that most affected Jacob Umaga this year
Wasps have broadcast a nine-and-a-half-minute video in which new England rugby cap Jacob Umaga calls on social media companies to make people accountable for abusive posts they publish. Social media abuse of sportspeople has again become a hot topic in the wake of last weekend’s Euro 2020 final loss by the England footballers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all getting racially abused after they missed penalties in the shootout that was won by Italy at Wembley.
Seven days earlier, Umaga was making his Test rugby debut for England versus the USA just months after he suffered badly from some brutal online criticism which coincided with him losing his place in the Wasps starting line-up for a number of games in the recently finished 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season.
Fresh from celebrating his 23rd birthday last week, Umaga has now tellingly said his piece about social media abuse and the damage it can do to people, especially young players making their way in professional sport. “A lot of people say it and never say it to your face but it needs to be a platform where if someone does say it, they need to be held accountable for what they are saying.
“Whether it is social abuse about a rugby player, if it is racism, if it is homophobia, anything – these people need to be held accountable for it because it is such a broad platform that anyone can see it. We don’t want that young generation feeding into that toxic behaviour,” said Umaga, who went on to describe how he himself was affected by negative social media comments and how one particular terrible message played on his mind for two months earlier this year.
“I remember there was one comment online, ‘Jacob Umaga doesn’t deserve to play for Wasps at all’. I can’t remember who we lost to, but that one stuck with me quite a lot. I actually love this club. I’m from Kenilworth down the road, I know the area really well, I love everyone at the club, I put a lot of hard work into the games and to say I don’t deserve to play – for that person it might be a loose comment, it might be nothing but to me it means a lot.
"He had a poor game against Harlequins and he will tell you that himself"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 9, 2021
“Someone questioning how much I want to play for this club or how hard I am going to work for this club, that stuck with me for a few games and I was trying to prove probably to that person that I deserved to be there when in actual fact I know myself, my support group knows, I worked hard enough to get here and I absolutely love this club but I was seeking someone’s approval who I don’t care about.
“You try and get away from it but you can’t. As much as you don’t want to, you are scrolling on your phone. I’ll just have a look at the 30, 40 comments that are there and you end up in a spiral of reading something you shouldn’t read or stalking a guy that doesn’t have a username properly and is just abusing you for no reason,” continued Umaga, who stepped off the England bench on July 4 to replace Max Malins who was injured early in the match.
“If I miss a tackle, throw a bad pass, I know that in the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘I’m getting comments for that, I am getting a bad rating or something like that’. Then it is just playing on my mind for the rest of the game. As much as it’s easy to say, ‘Just shake it off’, for some people you just can’t shake it off – and there was a point earlier in the year where I just couldn’t shake anything off. I threw a bad pass into touch and I just knew I am going to get so much backlash for that. It’s not where a young player wants to be at all.
“It probably took about two months (to get over it). A lot of that was in the last lockdown where I was stuck indoors, going from training to home, training to home. A lot of people think, ‘Cool, you’re going into training’. But if you can’t escape training when you go home you are just stuck in rugby mode constantly. It took two months to get it off my head.”
? “Social media abuse, homophobia, racism… People need to be held accountable” – Jacob Umaga discusses the pressure of the spotlight and how he’s overcome the social media trolls… pic.twitter.com/yksAbK1yeL
— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) July 14, 2021
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