Esteemed GAA pundit, Ursula Jacob, has opened up about the online abuse she has received, labelling the problem “out of control”.
She spoke out on Twitter after a Benchwarmers.ie article was posted by the Facebook page, ‘GAA Craic’, who have almost 300k subscribers.
The article was shared in a post, captioned: ‘Ursula Jacob Comes in for Hammering on The Sunday Game Panel’.
This was followed by a quote which said: “We give out about the games being on Sky but thank god the option is there to turn off Ursula Jacob”.
In an interview today, the pregnant four-time All-Ireland camogie champion revealed how she was in Wexford Hospital for an antenatal appointment “quite upset and quite hurt” about the abuse, when she decided to take to Twitter to fire back at the online trolls.
She told South East Radio: “I was quite upset when I saw the article on Sunday, I won’t lie. I was quite hurt. I’m a human being at the end of the day like any of the other lads. I felt on the Sunday evening and the Monday morning, it was still bothering me and it was still upsetting me.
"I was in Wexford hospital for an antenatal appointment, currently pregnant.
"And I was sitting in the waiting area and I started writing, what effectively became my statement that I put out last night.”
Ursula spoke about the level of scrutiny she receives, and how her Wexford accent and gender are often targeted.
“Very rarely do they comment about my knowledge, or my analysis, or my contribution, because they know that’s up to the standard,” she said.
“I’m not there for the tokenism, I’m not there to make up numbers. I’ve got a voice and I want to give my opinion.
“Why can I not speak about a hurling game as much as any male can speak about a camogie game?”
She explained that she normally does not pay any heed when nasty comments are made about her but was “quite upset” when she saw the article online.
“I was quite irate because the headline was so misleading. It was trying to imply that I had received a hammering about some comments I had made on the players or the game itself, which was not true,” she said.
“I’ve come to the end of my tether with it. It’s gotten to the stage that something has to happen to protect the likes of myself and other people. We (pundits) don’t mind being on a public platform or people making comments about our analysis or they disagree with us. I do have a problem with someone abusing me and making personal, nasty comments.
“They’re faceless cowards. Would that person come up to me on the street and say, ‘I can’t stand you’? I’m not going to change my Wexford accent or change who I am. I’m proud to be from Wexford, I’m a proud woman to be on the Sunday Game. It’s an honour for me.”
Jacob explained that she had written the Twitter post in the hopes that it would make at least one or two people reconsider before they make personal and hurtful comments.
Wexford Labour Party TD, Brendan Howlin, spoke on South East Radio following Jacob’s comments.
He branded her a “fantastic ambassador for Wexford.”
“We are hugely proud of the Jacob family and Ursula, in particular, for all they have given Wexford and our country,” he said.
Deputy Howlin said the notion that someone would be annoyed by hearing a woman’s voice in sport is “shocking”.
Mr Howlin, who introduced the Harassment Harmful Communications and Rated Offences Act 2020, said: “you should be as safe going on social media as you would be going in a public park, because it’s a public space.”
He explained that under the Act, it is a criminal offence to subject someone to the type of abuse that Jacob has endured.
He added: “These keyboard warriors out there, they better be aware that they are committing a criminal offence, that can get them six months in jail in the District Court, or on indictment for a serious offence, two years in jail. These are not small matters anymore.
“This cannot be an unregulated space like the Wild West, where you can say the most vile and vicious, untrue and hurtful things about anyone you like. That can’t be allowed and isn’t going to be allowed.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime, Ms Jacobs said online abuse and “narrow-minded” views need to be stamped out for good.
“It eventually gets to you. It wears you down. I’m a very strong person with a brilliant network of people behind me. My family, my husband have all been so supportive and I’m very much able to back myself,” she said.
“I don’t believe in tokenism or just being there for the sake of it. I’ve very passionate views on GAA, I’m fully able to back myself talking about hurling or camogie but when the personal attacks are commenting on my Wexford accent or the fact that I’m a woman speaking about the men’s games I just find that unacceptable.
“I don’t think me, or any other female should have to tolerate that because we’re trying to broaden the discussion around gender equality and… having more women involved at a high level. I think sometimes people think that women should stay in their lane and talk about camogie or women’s sports. I think we need to forget about this narrow-minded attitude from some individuals and I don’t think it’s a majority.”
Earlier today Benchwarmers.ie posted an article with the headline ‘Ursula Jacob Fires Back at Online Trolls’, and in it said that all RTÉ pundits have come in for heavy criticism on its website, whether they are male or female.
"While we probably shouldn’t be giving wind to their sail, people are interested in the commentary online as well as on the TV,” the article says.
"We apologise to Ursula or any of the pundits on RTÉ that we might have offended by reposting comments and opinions online that might have been negative to any of the RTÉ panel.”