In the lucrative world of professional sports, the important distinction between human and player is too often forgotten.
Fans and spectators see the players as just that; well-paid products of a global business and treat them as such. Communications between fans and the players can be overwhelming.
Kiwi Chelsea Lane, the Atlanta Hawks' executive director of athletic performance and sports medicine, has seen all sorts of online and real-life interactions between fans and players. Some are respectful, but the majority is far from it.
Asked in April if fans forget the fact players are people too, Lane told the Herald: "Yes; all the time."
"I understand these are incredibly well paid sports entertainers, and part of the big incomes that they earn comes from the fact they're selling a product to the world and that their public persona is what helps make them that money…but at no point did that person sign a contract that sold away their human rights. There's no clause in there that says you are now no longer entitled to the same level of humanity and respect that everybody else is.
"Yet, you read the stuff that people throw out there on the internet about these people. These are people, this is someone's brother, husband, dad, son…horrendous things from anonymous people who I'm sure if you spared them from their anonymity would never say such horrendous and hurtful things...it's just vitriol and poison."
A number of NBA players voiced their concerns over the situation on Tuesday (NZT) after Toronto Raptors fans cheered when Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant was forced to leave the court in game five of the NBA finals due to an Achilles injury. One Toronto fan was seen waving goodbye to Durant on ESPN's broadcast of the game.
It wasn't until Toronto stars Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka gestured to the crowd to stop mocking the fallen Durant that their jeers turned chants of "K-D, K-D" as the Warriors forward hobbled off the floor.
Durant had missed the first four games of the finals series, of which Toronto won three, due to a calf injury but was able to play in game five without a minute restriction. But early in the second quarter, the former league MVP went down injured with next to no contact and left the arena on crutches.
Without their star forward, Golden State were able to rally to a one-point win to force a game six in Oakland, which will be played on Friday (NZT), but will be without Durant for the rest of the finals series.
Among the myriad of messages supporting Durant and wishing him well, fellow NBA stars including Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Los Angeles Lakers' Kyle Kuzma called out the Toronto fans for how they reacted to the injury.
It's a part of the professional sports world that needs to change, Lane told the Herald.
"We put them in a goldfish bowl and then poke them with sticks. That's an unpleasant way to live. It's disrespectful and no human should be treated like that, no matter how much they're paid for their job.
"These are humans. Yes, they're well paid and yes they're public figures and yes they have responsibilities in the community and yes there are downsides and trappings that come with that, but we've got to retell the story differently.
"We have to change the dialogue there, for sure."