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Tennis news 2021: Dylan Alcott reveals disgusting tweet backlash, AFL joke, disability

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Dylan Alcott is as funny as he is talented but one day things took a very dark turn when his attempt at humour fell flat in a big way.

Social media can be an absolute cesspit and Dylan Alcott has given a glimpse into just how dark the abuse can get.

The Australian wheelchair tennis legend is one of the most loved athletes in the country but even he can’t escape the worst of what the internet caters to.

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In April the 30-year-old poked fun at North Melbourne as they suffered a humiliating 128-point loss to the Western Bulldogs, when Josh Bruce kicked more goals (10) than the entire Kangaroos team combined.

“Legit reckon I could get a kick for North Melbourne at the minute,” Alcott tweeted.

Alcott thought it was all in jest but not everyone saw it like that. Former Roos defender Sam Durdin hit back after the game, writing: “For a sporting professional who’s so vocal about the treatment of people with disabilities this is a shocking comment.”

Plenty of punters joined the pile-on and speaking to sports broadcaster Mark Howard in an episode of his podcast The Howie Games, Alcott revealed the worst of what he copped. Some responses he said were funny – from people who clearly didn’t get the joke about a bloke in a wheelchair talking up his footy pedigree – but plenty weren’t.

“I was joking but it rubbed the wrong chord and I would never call someone out individually, never ever as an athlete, a person – never,” Alcott told Howard. “But it was a team and you know what, even me saying that is a negative thing. I thought, I could have checked myself there.

“But then I just opened myself up to the craziest tweets I’ve ever got.

“Then it’s like, ‘Why can you make a joke about your disability and I can’t call you a f***ing dumb cripple?’

“And then it was just on and on. ‘They should lock you all up in a pen’. ‘Why do they even let you out of the home?’ Like, crazy stuff.

“It is disgusting.”

Some of the most vicious abuse arrived when Alcott became a regular in the footy world. He joined a new-look AFL Footy Show panel in 2019 as the program bid goodbye to long-serving stalwarts Eddie McGuire and Sam Newman, but the revamped formula was a ratings flop and Channel 9 axed the show midway through the season.

Although the experiment didn’t last long, it was a pivotal experience for Alcott. Admitting to Howard he used to get hung up on what people said about him online, a stint at The Footy Show taught him other people’s opinions simply don’t matter if they’re not coming from someone you care about — a lesson he wants to share with anyone who’s ever been the victim of cyber-bullying.

“Everyone was like, ‘Bring Sam Newman back’,” Alcott said to Howard. “I’m so lucky, I get mad love online. I only have a small group (of haters), and it’s since I got involved in the footy world of all places, where people really get stuck in.

“I’m so lucky, it was one of the best experiences ever hosting The Footy Show – because I used to look at the stuff written about me and get upset. It made me realise I could not give a s**t about what they write about me.

“I just realised that these people are nameless faces with fake accounts who have no lives, who have a photo of a car as a display pic or whatever it is.

“They’re writing, ‘What does this old mate cripple, no legs know about footy?’ ‘Eff this guy’ … ‘Get this effing R-word off my TV’.

“But by reading one tweet or listening to one podcast, they don’t know the person. They think they do, but they know the persona. So if they’re abusing the persona, don’t worry, you’ve got to separate yourself from who you actually are.

“Because the people that really know me are my family, my mates.

“You can’t get hung up on what people are saying online because they don’t genuinely know the person that you are. And if you know you’re doing everything you can to be a good person, who cares what they write.”

The moment that changed everything

Alcott can still remember the moment that changed his life forever. It’s got nothing to do with the seven Australian Open singles titles or the Paralympic medals, but something much more important.

Having taken up tennis as a kid, Alcott’s mum drove him to Thurgoona in regional NSW for a tournament. It was the first time his eyes were opened to the kind of life he could live in wheelchair.

“It changed my life. I saw a guy, who would have been 25, and he was driving a car,” Alcott told Howard. “I was like, ‘You can drive a car in a wheelchair?’ Had no idea. And then that guy got out and he kissed his wife. I was like, ‘What the? What’s that?’

“He had kids. He drank a beer and he was awesome at tennis. And if you take away the gold medals and the grand slams, I’m telling you, the most important part of my sporting career was the social aspect of meeting people like me and feeling normal and included. Better than any Wimbledon title for me – changed my life. Changed my life, bang, to the tee. And I mean that.

“The Thurgoona Open … I’m telling you it changed me. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do’.”

Playing professional sport wasn’t something Alcott had considered but that experience changed his mindset completely.

“I feel (like) a bit of a fraud. When the Sydney Games were on, I didn’t go to the Paralympics. I went to the Olympics and I regret that,” Alcott said.

“The Paralympics was on for maybe half an hour a night as a highlights show. I missed it. I didn’t even get to see it. I didn’t see any Paralympic sport as a kid, nothing. I just competed and loved it and that day (at Thurgoona), I’m telling you, from then on I was like, ‘I want to be a Paralympian’. That was my goal.”

Alcott did more than just become a Paralympian – he excelled in two completely different sports. He won gold as a teenager with the Australian wheelchair basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and silver at London 2012.

By the time the 2016 Games came around, Alcott had transitioned to tennis and proceeded to scoop up two gold medals in the quad singles and doubles events.

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