Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens was at the White House on Wednesday to speak on the subject of online harassment and threats – something that tennis players and other athletes have become very familiar with in the modern age of social media.
Stephens, who shared the abusive messages she received following her loss at the US Open last year, was on hand as Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris launched the White House Task Force to curb online harassment.
In her three-plus minute talk, Stephens said that despite her experience, she still feels worried to look at her phone following a loss because she knows what’s waiting on the other side.
“Many of you might first associate me with being a professional tennis player, which of course is my day job, but it’s not the sound of who I am. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, and I’m more than an athlete, more than a label. It is all disregarded when people online seek to harass me and harm me. Whether I win or lose, someone online is mad and they will make it known. There have been times when I am walking off the court after a loss and not even thinking about anything related to tennis. I’m just worried as I know what will be waiting for me when I unlock my phone,” Sloane Stephens said.
“People know where I live and everything I do. I’ve been harassed and threatened. I understand that I am a public figure so this comes with the scope of my work. But that access and exposure should never come at the expense of my safety. It is so triggering to constantly advocate for myself and relive the trauma of these messages while getting more messages because I’m speaking up,” Stephens continued.
“I’ve learned that if someone is determined to be abusive and threatening, they will get very creative. When I went public with my experience after last year’s US Open, I was shocked by the outrage and outpouring of support. It was baffling to me because this has been my daily lived experience for over a decade,” she added.
The American tennis star said she had decided to speak up on the issue to help others like her in a similar situation who may not have access to the tools and support to deal with online harassment as she does.
I hope that by hearing these stories and bringing decision-makers together, we can make a difference for everyone, no matter the size of their platform
“But then I thought about all the people out there who don’t have a team filtering their messages. What about them? What about the young boys and girls and people of color or anyone who is terrified that they will be harmed or are driven to harm themselves? I’m here today for them. I hope that by hearing these stories and bringing decision-makers together, we can make a difference for everyone, no matter the size of their platform,” Sloane Stephens concluded as she went on to introduce US Vice President Kamala Harris at the meeting.
The task force is expected to come out with a blueprint in six months on how to address the problem of online harassment, including more support for victims, prevention and greater accountability for aggressors and platforms hosting them.
Others who were part of the meeting on Thursday included Attorney General Merrick Garland and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.