Mark Halsey, a retired Premier League official, shared a disturbing personal story on Monday about the abuse he received from Liverpool fans last September. Halsey, who gave Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey a red card in a match against Manchester United, said the fans’ anger went beyond just booing in the stadium and ended with him receiving death threats on social media.
“They were saying things like ‘I hope your cancer comes back,’ ‘I hope your wife dies of leukaemia and your daughter too and ‘If I had a bullet I would use it on you’,” said Halsey, who is a cancer survivor (Reuters). The former official continued:
While I am all for people being accountable, the ignorance of some of the criticism and the rise of social media, with its unmonitored vilification, makes it almost impossible to referee Premier League matches these days.
There is no hiding place on the field and you have to be mentally tough. But it also follows you off the field more and more now and it can destroy you.
I also believe that if we do not do something to help referees with mental health and stress issues, then we could even get a suicide.
Halsey’s point is an important one that shouldn’t just be shrugged off with comments about “toughening up.” While blaming a suicide (or the potentiality of one) purely on abuse from fans is overly simplified — there are numerous factors that contribute to a suicidal mental state — it is still worth mentioning that directing such horrible insults at a referee (or at anyone for that matter) is inexcusable and reprehensible. Though it’s easy to forget, your words do matter. Passion is fine when it comes to sports, but violent anger isn’t. No matter how much you believe Official X screwed your team out of a victory, that official is still a human being and is worthy of decent treatment.