Jonathan Rea talks ‘terrible’ social media abuse after WorldSBK furore

Jonathan Rea admits he was affected by sbuse he received on social media in the wake of a controversial decision to penalise Toprak Razgatlioglu in France

Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team

WorldSBK Champion Jonathan Rea says ‘broad shoulders’ are needed to handle abuse he and other riders receive on social media in the wake of divisive racing incidents.

The Ulsterman was embroiled in a controversial decision to penalise title rival Toprak Razgatlioglu’s Superpole Race win at Magny-Cours after the Turk was judged to have exceeded track limits on the final lap.

He says it led to a barrage of abuse left in comments on his social media channels both in the direct aftermath and later on non-related posts.

“Through social media, all kinds of people are expressing their opinions,” he told Speedweek. “I speak from my own experience when I was under fire two weeks ago after Magny-Cours, when the FIM had corrected the result of the Superpole race. 

“It was terrible what was going on on social media. Three days later, I posted a picture of my motocross bike and still got negative comments in response. 

“You need broad shoulders to digest this. People wrote that they wish me falls and other bad things. I saw such comments at the time with Garrett too. "

His words, reported by Speedweek, came in response to a question about his WorldSBK rival Garrett Gerloff, who has seen his form plummet from podium contention to battling around the fringes of the top ten since he was caught up in a collision with Yamaha stablemate Razgatlioglu at Assen.

With the crash coming after other incidents earlier in the year, the American says it has been ‘mentally difficult’ ever since Assen, adding that he feels he has put his GRT Yamaha team ‘through hell.

“He made a couple of mistakes, but the problem was that at Assen he got one of the most important drivers - Toprak. It is not easy to process this mentally,.

“The social media and the people at the keyboards are responsible for this.When we drivers put on our leather suit and helmet, we are protected from certain things. But we are only human and we have feelings. 

“I'm sorry for Garrett because he was one of the title contenders for us on the team at the start of the season. I am sure that he will use the calm around him to pull himself out of this hole. He is a strong and very talented pilot.”

Social media | A force for good and evil

It’s 2021 so one doesn’t need to explain why social media has been a force for good and bad across all walks of life, nor do I need to explain why fans of one sportsperson will target another one in the event of an incident.

What’s different today though is we are getting a new generation of rider who have - unlike many of us over 25-30 - lived their entire lives with social media’s ever present temptations and trappings.

They are aware of how it is used - whether as a tool or as a weapon - so arguably for the first time we are seeing a change in mentality when it comes to dealing with abuse. Once upon a time it was riders pissed off at journalists for dodgy reporting, but today it’s trial by social media because you made a mistake in a sport where that invariably happens.

It suggests more needs to be done to factor that into a rider’s coaching. Teams will encourage riders to develop a social media profile to push the message of sponsors or brands, but while for many the praising comments will always out-weigh the negative ones, its human nature to focus on the bad reactions. 

But in an era of very comfy, very keyboard happy armchair ‘experts’, if a rider happens to be the conscious type who doesn’t brush off his own mistakes so easily, they will be sucked into the negative cyclone of critique from faceless people with opinions expressed from thousands of miles away.

You might say they need to toughen up but - hey - we are all very different. It’s like a rider who falls and then gets back up only to fall again because the need to right the wrong overtakes concentration…

Whereas that rider would dust itself off, swear a bit and stomp off to their motorhome, today’s rider has hundreds of thousands - or more - people immortalising it in reactions for days, weeks, months and years.