COLUMN: As speculation spreads, what of the players who are wrongly accused?

Social media in the here and now of 2018 is both a blessing and a curse.

At times, it’s wonderful. At others, it’s a nuisance, a hindrance to modern-day life and, in rare occasions, very dangerous indeed.

For the matter of clarity, this week’s column is not about Albert Kelly and his misdemeanours in McDonalds last weekend. His actions were inexcusable, and Hull have dealt with the matter internally. Rightly or wrongly, that is the situation.

Nor is this about Castleford’s statement about Garry Lo – which, for legal reasons, is all that can be reported right now while a person is voluntarily cooperating with police over an enquiry.

This, rather, is about the other side of the coin. The speculation which emerged online about a player at Castleford late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning – the hours leading up to the Tigers’ statement saying Lo had been stood down (which was ‘not an admission of wrongdoing’, said the club’s statement) – prompted exactly that: speculation.

It would be remiss – and simply wrong – to start naming players, but it is unavoidable that, amongst the frenzy of rumour and speculation about who the player was involved in trouble, at least one other player was suggested to have been involved in wrongdoing.

But this is more an illustration of the general problem, not something Castleford-specific – so here, let’s call the player wrongly accused of something Player X, and the player who is actually in the wrong Player Y.

Twitter, fans forums, Facebook – every platform you could possibly think of – is ablaze with talk that Player X has done something wrong or, perhaps even worse, committed a crime when he hasn’t (which is very questionable legal ground to be standing on if you’re incorrect).

Imagine being Player X. If you can’t, imagine being Player X’s children, or Player X’s parents; switching your phone on, checking social media and being inundated with messages and tweets insinuating someone you love is doing something they aren’t.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Kelly incident has prompted all sorts of interesting offshoots in terms of debate and discussion: one being about how Hull’s lack of public comment would be perceived by sponsors of the club – or indeed sponsors of Super League.

But what if Player X’s club has a sponsor which picks up wind of these rumours about the player doing something wrong when he hasn’t? What would the implications be over something which quite simply hasn’t happened at all?

Player welfare is a huge talking point in the sport at the minute. How does Player X react personally and emotionally to being accused of things they simply have not done?

The point? It’s worthwhile, at least on occasions like these, to wait for the full story and the truth to emerge. Journalists have a duty to find out the truth, but in a world where everyone is desperate to be first to the story – where they’re competing not only with each other, but modern-day social media – it’s easy to get something wrong and find yourself accusing someone of something they simply haven’t done. That has dangerous consequences not just for the person who speculates, but the player, the club and indeed beyond.

There is a worrying trend of rugby league players falling into trouble. Be it Thomas Minns’ failed drugs test, Albert Kelly’s off-field antics or anything else: it’s not been a great week for the sport’s image.

But just as much of a concern should be how, too often, players’ names are being tarnished for no real reason. All in the name of ‘gossip’.