Last week Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield announced that he would be leaving social media for the foreseeable future – citing the toxic environment he had faced after a tumultuous season. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, the Browns’ first overall pick in 2019 NFL Draft is the latest to abandon social media.

Today, it is all too common for athletes and celebrities to find themselves in the crosshairs from critics – and many times it can be extremely personal. All people feel this type of criticism, and even athletes.

Tom Kannon, DNP (PMHNP-BC), Assistant Dean of Online Graduate Nursing, Regis College Professor, explained that it impacts them just as much as anyone else.

Kannon warned that constant criticism could lead to negative self-talk and lowered self-esteem. It can also cause frustration, anger, and irritability. If this continues for too long, it can lead to anxiety and depression.

While very successful people tend to have good supports and coping mechanisms already established – and that can help bolster them against such negativity – if inundated with it long enough, it will erode even the strongest psyche.

Kannon said that criticism could lead to lower self-appreciation for some and higher self-defeating thoughts for others. For others it might be a catalyst for self-reflection and the ‘rise to the challenge’ of proving their critics wrong. How that happens depends in large measure on how the individual views themselves and their self-concept.

While many of us would like to think we aren’t concerned about what others think, that is often not the truth. It can be difficult to ignore negative remarks from athletes who are in the limelight.

Dr. Nathaniel N. Ivers is an associate professor at Wake Forest University and the chair of the Department of Counseling. He stated that “criticism” can have a negative impact on people’s mental and emotional health. It can lead to depression, anxiety and lower self-esteem. You may also experience increased emotional reactivity or isolation towards others. This can lead to a change in how you view others and a decrease in your ability to relate.

Social media makes it easier than ever for fans – and critics alike – to tear down athletes like never before. Baker Mayfield recognized the necessity to distance himself from the negative commentary that he was exposed to via social media platforms.

The Schadenfreude Effect

The biggest problem today is the ease with which individuals can be attacked on social media.

Ivers added that Schadenfreude, a psychological idea, suggests people are more likely to feel joy when they witness, learn about or participate in the troubles and failures of another person. Studies show that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel joy at witnessing their humiliation and failures than those with higher self-esteem. Schadenfreude can explain some of the vitriolic comments that politicians and professional athletes face on the media and social media. Low self-esteem individuals are trying to boost their emotional equanimity and psychological stability by knocking down another person.

Although Schadenfreude is a common emotion in any relationship, it could be heightened by social media because of its ability to provide unprecedented access for high-profile individuals.

Ivers stated that it is crucial that individuals protect themselves against toxic environments that can degrade their self-worth and mental health. While it may be difficult for athletes and high-profile individuals to realize that others think negative about them, and they likely talk about them on social networks, the impact will be much less than if the person is consuming this negativity constantly and directly.

One Celebrity. A Brand

Where the issue becomes more complicated – especially for athletes – is that they are more than a person at times. A brand ambassador is what they do. Part of their income comes from the ability to promote products. It can be hard for athletes to leave social media platforms that are used to promote brands.

Melissa Davies, Ph.D. assistant professor of Sport Administration, Ohio University, stated that Baker Mayfield is an individual, with many rights, and also a professional athlete.

Davies said that Mayfield represents himself, his Browns brand and the NFL. He also endorses other companies. Each of these partnerships is confirmed by a contractual agreement that outlines the exact relationship and obligations between Mayfield’s organization and Mayfield. Mayfield needs to consider both his personal well-being, and the welfare of his family. Mayfield also has to weigh his earning potential as a public figure and the contractual arrangements.

Many brands pay huge sums for professional athletes to endorse their products through advertising on their social media and in print ads. Sometimes, these brands might allow athletes to appear on company social media. However, more frequently, the brand will pay celebrities or athletes for endorsements or advertisements on celebrity social media pages. This is called influencer marketing.

Davies stated that brands gain exposure to the targeted audience of athletes. While these deals can provide a lucrative way for athletes to earn additional income streams, engaging with social media through the NFL and Cleveland Browns is not an obligation. Mayfield appears to have weighed the potential earning on social media against the possibility of reducing tension in his private life, and decided to opt out.

Time Out – But Will It Help?

For Mayfield he may tune out of social media, but today it is impossible to escape what is said – likely even more than trying to avoid TV or the newspaper. In fact, news of Mayfield’s departure from social media has only cast him in the spotlight again – where articles such as this one now focus on the reasons. Even the people you may not agree with. It is notYou may have been following football for a while and suddenly realize the difficulties he had this season.

Still, departing social media could present some benefits for Mayfield – as well as others who are finding the platforms to be more negative than positive.

Kannon said that leaving social media could have a positive influence on an individual. Negative comments can be removed from your life, which will reduce stress. It’s similar to the old saying, “Out of sight, out mind.” One of the hardest things for elite athletes and high-profile people to do is to find a way to leave all the negative comments behind, since they will still more than likely still see it on TV, in newspapers/magazines, and the Internet in general not just social media.”

Mayfield can take a break on social media to avoid the negativity flood.

Kannon stated that although he might still be conscious of criticisms, the benefits would be double. The first is that criticisms would not be as visible. Second, criticisms published in magazines or news/TV programs would come with an identifiable source. It would make it easier for the individual to evaluate the validity of any comments.

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