Bale says media pressure can push athletes ‘over the edge’

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Gareth Bale has spoken out against the psychological harm that professional athletes can receive from the media after a leading Spanish sports daily published a column on the Real Madrid player entitled “The Welsh Parasite.”

Bale wrote on Twitter on Friday that the column published by Marca was a “piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism.”

“At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentlessness of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write article like this, accountable?” Bale wrote.

In the opinion piece published on Thursday, writer Manuel Juliá compared Bale to a “parasite” who, after playing well in his first seasons with Madrid, now “sucks blood without giving anything in return.” The column was accompanied by a drawing of a mosquito with Bale’s face on Real Madrid’s emblem.

Bale criticized the media for holding athletes to an impossible standard, and when they fail to always reach it, for attacking them ruthlessly with no concern for their mental wellbeing.

“Instead of commiserating with (athletes) when they show one ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans,” Bale said. “The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it’s clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge.”

Fair or not, many Madrid fans believe Bale has failed to consistently perform to his potential since joining the club in 2013 for a then world record 100 million euros (then $132 million). Many Madrid supporters, and the Spanish media, accuse him of not wanting to play as hard for his club as he does for Wales.

Earlier in his career at Madrid, Bale did rise to the occasion. He helped the club win four European Cups, scoring in the 2014 and 2018 Champions League finals. But he then struggled to stay injury-free and eventually fell out of favor with former coach Zinedine Zidane.

Bale spent last season on loan back at former club Tottenham before returning to the Spanish capital.

He has barely played for Carlo Ancelotti in this campaign, but that has not stopped him from playing well for Wales. He was in prime form on Thursday when he scored twice to help Wales beat Austria 2-1 in a World Cup qualifying playoff.

The two-goal performance came days after Bale withdrew from contention for Madrid ahead of its match against fierce rival Barcelona, which it lost by a humbling 4-0.

The 32-year-old winger’s contract with Madrid expires in June.

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