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Dealing With High Expectations, Social Media Scrutiny in Professional Sports

The NBA Finals are in full swing and the NFL is getting ready to open training camp next month. That puts professional athletes back in the spotlight which can bring intense pressure from owners, families and fans.

With the passing of former University of Hawai‘i quarterback Colt Brennan two months ago, questions continue to be raised about how high-profile athletes can deal with high expectations.

The Conversation spoke with local sports psychology consultant Darryl Oshiro and former San Francisco 49er Jesse Sapolu from O’ahu to learn more. Sapolu played football at UH from 1979 to 1982. He also played for the 49ers for over a decade and co-founded the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.

Marcio Sanchez/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former San Francisco 49er Jesse Sapolu watches pregame warmups before an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez)

Oshiro said he thinks the current generation is in danger of succumbing to pressure and expectations because of social media.

“Every day they can read about who said what about them and that in itself can create negativity. That in itself can create pressure. That in itself can create a destructive mindset,” Oshiro said. “Once you start focusing on what the media is saying, what other people are saying, it just makes it harder. And that’s the biggest challenge because everyone’s comparing themselves to somebody else.”

Social media has its advantages for some athletes, but online public scrutiny can be a lot for others, Sapolu said.

“There are advantages in that even the marginal players, people know about because of social media,” Sapolu said. “But the downside to that is, people can call for you being cut because they have their own individual opinion. Back when I played, you didn’t hear about the opinion of every individual.”

“So it brings a lot of pressure and I think that’s the downside of having social media. People are not as patient, but that’s the world we live in right now,” Sapolu added.

This segment aired on The Conversation on July 12, 2021.

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