And now, as the late, great Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story.
I really don’t have anything against Eni Aluko, she is an intelligent young woman (she’s on her way to being a lawyer), and obviously has enough soccer talent to be starting for England in the World Cup, which means she could literally do circles around me if we ever met on the field.
However, my job here is to analyze what happens in these Women’s World Cup matches, and in England’s opener against Mexico, Aluko had a poor match, she missed a few chances, and seemed to fade away as she (and her team) tired.
The previous paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with Aluko as a person, and it’s a difference that some of us can’t really wrap our arms around sometimes, but it’s an extremely significant one for those of us that like to watch the best of the best in athletics.
After the game, Aluko was understandably upset, but not so understandably sent this Tweet out:
EniAlu “Kate Markgraf’s commentary is probably going to be the most shocking thing about this WWC.Just sayin.Thank you.Good night. Onto the next one”
Ten years ago, even five years ago, Aluko wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do such a thing, and she quickly realized the error of her ways and deleted the Tweet (a couple of hours after sending it).
But not before a few people took her to task for criticizing Markgraf on Twitter. That probably should be the end of the story, Aluko learned her Twitter lesson, and we move on.
Instead, the story was spun into poor Aluko being the victim, first by ESPN (which is somewhat ironic, because it was Markgraf – as a conduit of ESPN – that Aluko seemed to be most upset with in the first place), then by the Guardian, of all people, both of whom seemed to ignore the fact that the brunt of the Twitter criticism didn’t seem to come until after the Tweet about Markgraf (in fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all in either story).
Aluko called her Twitter messages “intrusive and poisonous”, and went on to say, “I’m a very passionate person and if you’re going to write negativity about me I’m going to say something back.”
Again, no one deserves to be abused and Twitter (like the Internet, in general) allows people to “hide behind a keyboard”, as Aluko says.
But part of being a professional athlete is taking criticism and responsibility for what you say as well. Two weeks ago, Charlie Davies – who began the season as the feel-good story of MLS after returning from a near-fatal car accident – drew the ire of MLS fans when his dive gave DC United a late penalty kick and a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake.
Davies (who was fined $1,000 for “bringing the game into disrepute”) is very active on Twitter, and first took to defending himself from comments which were much, much worse than Aluko received earlier this week. A few days after the incident, he Tweeted “Just had a drive of 250 yards!!! I’m felling it now hahaha”.
Person after person, of course, turned the word drive into dive, and it was a new round of abuse for Davies.
But this time, Davies (probably getting some good advice from somewhere) stayed silent – at least as far as Twitter was concerned. He came back, scored in his next start and never mentioned it again. While I’m sure the controversy will never completely be gone as far as opposing fans and idiots who are just out to get a rise out of people are concerned, it has mostly quieted down and Davies has gone back to his business.
Markgraf, to her credit, took the high road as well, saying on Twitter before commenting on the England-New Zealand match Friday: “Social media makes it possible 2 contact athletes. Want them perform better?don’t @ them twitter msg. they know! no 1 goes out 2 do poorly.”
Adrian Healey brought up the Twitter “controversy” a couple of times, and Markgraf – very professionally – stayed quiet.
Aluko got the start and actually had a much better time of it before getting substituted at halftime for Karen Carney as England came from behind to likely book a place in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win.
So, the bottom line here is twofold. In my coaching (and teaching), I always stress the difference between controllables and uncontrollables. Eni Aluko – as with anyone – can’t control what people say about her. It’s part of the job of an elite athlete where thousands of people watch the games and care about the results.
As I’ve said before, personal abuse – threatening, racial comments, talking about family members, etc. – has no place in any sport and should not be tolerated.
But if you can’t take criticism of your play on the field at this level, you’re probably in the wrong place. And when you make the first rude comment about someone else, then expect us to feel sympathy for you, there’s no way I’m going to feel sorry for you.
Sorry, Eni, it’s nothing personal.