Leeds’ irresponsible action opened the door to sexist trolls

Leeds have now condemned the abuse and have apparently been in contact with Karen regarding their tweet because they were “taken aback” by the sexist comments she was sent.

Well, I can tell you what, Leeds – we were not taken aback at all and this is the very reason so many of us were outraged by your irresponsible actions. We do not want to be protected or helped along the way. We are stronger than we look – it must be down to all those years working hard in the kitchen … But we have seen in other industries that online trolling can really affect people. It is important that men understand the complexities we women face within this industry. I knew that if I made any mistakes, my gender would be used against me.

It is the same when sportswomen are trolled – it is never a mistake they make on the pitch, it is because they are a woman. Meanwhile, a sportsman can make the same mistake and he is scrutinised for just that – a mistake.

Women receive abhorrent messages online, even rape threats. It becomes not about being in the sport industry, it becomes about this threat against women and using their gender against them. I have become really detached from it over the years, but when it has happened to me, the worst thing was seeing my family read it. My poor mother would say, “that is absolutely foul”.

I wonder what I would have done today if Karen was a member of my family, or a loved one. I think I would have absolutely lost it. We are not talking about just the person involved here, it is about the friends and family around them, who cannot protect them.

It is why so many women working in sport have been quite strong about how we feel about this. We know it could quite easily happen to any of us.

And yet, is not having an opinion what a good pundit is supposed to do?

Quite often pundits are slammed for not having a view either way. We have quite clearly seen here that someone who has a different, diverse opinion – Karen, a brilliant pundit and ex-player – does not sit on the fence, she gets vilified for it. My issue with what Leeds did was that, whether you agreed with Karen’s comments or not, what they are basically saying is that you are not allowed to have “this” type of opinion and, in doing what they did, they opened the door to the vitriol sexist hate that we are so used to seeing online.

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Do we want pundits – men and women – to sit on the fence more because they fear clubs and fans will string them up ready for ridicule?

As women, we are far too used to such ridicule in football. We are under no illusions – often it feels like we are not welcome within the game.

What is totally inappropriate is Leeds’ lack of awareness. We all have a responsibility to be sensitive to what people have to face, whether it be sexism, homophobia, transphobia or racism. Leeds, as a Premier League club, should have been more aware of what their actions were going to provoke.

Women are still not on an even playing field when it comes to gender equality in sport; from professional clubs to boardrooms and everything in between.

We are having to do our best to tread through the minefield without making any perceived mistakes. Yet we do not want protection or privilege, thank you. We just do not want to be threatened with sexual violence and sexist comments every time you disagree with our opinion.

The Telegraph, London

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