Death Threats in the Australian Football League

Justin Robertson over at ESPN Australia has a really interesting piece out today on death threats in the Australian Football League. It caught my attention because it reminds me so much of what I went through with TSLAQ after Aaron Greenspan doxxed me. This a huge problem that affects a lot of people and nothing has been done about it because it’s only gotten bad fairly recently. In the smartphone era, when almost everyone carries an internet-connected computer with them at all times, these threats come with a new level of intimacy and a deeper knowledge of the target.

AFL players have been stalked and trolled since the 1960s, when death threats were sent through the mail in the form of cut-out letters or came via phone calls. Now, with technology evolving, perpetrators operate online and hide behind fake names and photos, with Twitter handles that look more like credit card numbers than usernames. ESPN explores the world of death threats in football and the AFL’s sophisticated war on trolls.


The crimes aren’t new, but modern tools make it easier than ever.

“I guess with what has happened, the most disappointing thing is I have a lot of Essendon supporters and a lot of AFL supporters commenting on photos of Romeo, my baby,” Ward said at the time. “I think it just has to stop because if you have been getting death threats like I have been getting, some players couldn’t handle that.”

“The severity and pointed nature of these threats went way beyond what I would call normal post-game banter with this individual, so much so that we were concerned for the safety of my family back home in Victoria,” Grimes later said in a statement.


Going after the victim’s family seems to be a common tactic. I’ve seen the same thing with TSLAQ. I guess the reasoning is that people can handle being made fun of, but when your family becomes a target you start to feel very guilty.

Brisbane’s Mitch Robinson and the Bulldogs’ Josh Bruce were vocal about the online abuse they receive, saying that they get up to 30 putrid messages about failed bets from strangers each week. North Melbourne’s Aaron Hall had noxious messages directed at his wife and young child. Younger players such as Fremantle’s Caleb Serong and Port Adelaide’s Zak Butters aren’t spared; one was referred to as a “slave,” and the other had comments aimed at his parents. Veterans Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker and Nick Vlastuin all have scornful examples to share, and last year, AFLW star Tayla Harris had to deal with trolls who fired off misogynistic and repugnant comments after she posted on social media a photo of herself kicking for goal.


Racism also seems to be a common theme among these threats. It’s the same with TSLAQ.

Dr. Lisa Warren, clinical and forensic psychologist at Code Black Threat Management, says sending death threats in cloak-and-dagger increases their impact.

“When someone says, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ what they do is create a sense of uncertainty: What’s going to happen next? Is this going to happen? When’s it going to happen? And that uncertainty can be really traumatic,” she told ESPN. “What we know about online stalking, as an example: The trauma that is created in the person who is being targeted is about as impactful as people who have been serving in war.”

Trolling is not new, but for most AFL players, extreme behaviour from strangers — something Dr. Warren refers to as “severe psychological violence” — has progressed into a daily occurrence. The unacceptable behaviour is bigger than the AFL: More than 6.5 million Australians have experienced online harassment, including death threats, hate, racism and misogyny. 


I’ve never been to war, and it seems a little extreme to say being stalked on Twitter is the same thing, but I can definitely tell you that it affects and traumatizes you in a similar vein. The phrase “severe psychological violence” describes the conduct of Aaron Greenspan and his “charity” pretty well.

“There’s no consequential thinking on the part of the perpetrator because there are no consequences. So perpetrators are not learning. They’re not realizing consequences, nor do they care because they think they can remain anonymous,” Veivers told ESPN. “When trolls send messages to them [players], they are invading their world. It feels very personal, very intimate. That can affect how the athlete processes what is said.”

Veivers has seen firsthand what death threats and online abuse can do to a player physically. She says that once a player reads a message, he or she can go into shock. The body goes into fight-or-flight mode as stress hormones are released, which can bring shaking, nerves and nausea. What happens next is up to the individual. Tell a friend. Tell the club. Tell the manager. Some choose to not tell anyone, which Veivers says is a coping mechanism in which they “shelve” the threat in a bid to ignore it so that it eventually goes away.


People like Aaron Greenspan need to be held accountable. As long as there are no consequences, he’ll continue doing what he’s been doing.

“People who would never commit an armed robbery or a burglary seem to believe that online threats are not comparable. However, that’s a misconception, and those threats can have a comparable, lasting impact on victims,” White told ESPN. “More than anything, people need to understand that online behaviour is ‘real life,’ and there are real consequences to their actions, which includes criminal charges.”


Twitter didn’t respond to an interview request.


Read the full story at ESPN

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