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“Online abuse fuelled my imposter syndrome—but I've come back stronger”

Written By
Miranda Gabbott
Semra Hunter | Sports Broadcast Journalist

Semra Hunter’s rise to becoming a successful TV football broadcaster was little short of meteoric. She had studied for a career in foreign correspondence, but in her mid-twenties she decided to pivot. She moved to Madrid for an MA in Sports Journalism.

Coming to the industry a bit later than others, Semra always felt like she had to prove herself.

“I was a bit older than most people who were studying, so I felt like I really had to make up for lost time.” 

Semra dedicated herself to studying, and soon landed a reporter role with a major news outlet. 

She learned the trade fast thanks to a lifetime love of the game. While most sports fans in her home city of LA bonded over American football, she grew up playing and watching soccer with her father. 

She quickly began reporting on some of the world’s biggest matches in both English and Spanish, in print and as a TV presenter. 

“I covered the Madrid derby in a Champions League Final, and that felt—wow—amazing. I’d managed to make it to the pinnacle of the elite football club competition. I almost had to pinch myself to believe it was really happening.”  

But being in the public eye in the internet age makes you a potential target for online abuse. Especially in football. And sadly, especially as a woman in football.

Shaking off the sexism    

For the first five or so years of Semra’s career, her colleagues and viewers alike responded really positively to her reporting. 

"The fans in African countries were unbelievably kind and super loving, always giving out praise and appreciation. And my colleagues have always been really, really supportive and willing to give me advice."

Then, she took on work for a channel that broadcast to British football fans. It was like opening Pandora’s box.

She started to get hateful comments on her videos, many of them outraged that she—a woman—could possibly know anything about football. If she made the smallest mistake, haters were ready to pounce. If she didn’t, they’d say something mean anyway.  

“I couldn’t believe people could be so cruel. As if we're not humans, and we don't get affected by comments like this. I don't know what they think we are, but we're not robots.”

<quote-author>Semra Hunter<quote-author> | <quote-company>Sports Broadcast Journalist<quote-company>

At first, she found the abuse tough to handle. While she was at the top of her game, Semra’s imposter syndrome from the start of her career resurfaced. She knew the comments were baseless—but a tiny part of her wondered if they were right. 

“I always felt like I had to prove myself. I was really bogged down with this silly idea that I was behind other journalists—that I needed to catch up.” 

Friends and family encouraged her that negative comments were part of the job, and Semra eventually grew a thick skin. Her colleagues—almost exclusively men—assured her that she was a great broadcaster , and should ignore the trolls. After all, the “go back to the kitchen” rhetoric was hardly a clever take-down of her professional abilities. 

Then one day, the abuse suddenly got a lot more personal. 

The night it all kicked off  

It was the 2022 Champions League final. Semra was reporting pitch-side on a match between Liverpool and Real Madrid. It was the end of the season and she was exhausted.
She was inside the stadium, preparing for match time, when UEFA announced that the game would start late due to a “fan delay.” 

Videos started to appear on social media: fans were trying to enter the grounds by force, climbing fences and pushing past police. According to Twitter, Liverpool supporters were the bigger culprit. 

“It was pandemonium. We were live on air. The studio kept connecting to us and asking, ‘what's going on?”

It was Semra’s job to report, so she reported that there were claims on social media of Liverpool fans trying to charge in.

“I had no idea what was going on outside. All I could do was see what was happening on social media.”

At the time she didn’t know, but Liverpool fans have a traumatic history with crowd crush. In 1989, a fatal overcrowding incident resulted in the death of 97 Liverpool supporters. 

While a later inquiry decided it was a police failure of crowd management, journalists wrongly blamed the tragedy on Liverpool fans being unruly and dangerous. Many Liverpool supporters still feel this as an open wound. 

By the time she came off air, Semra had been sent numerous hate comments via Twitter. Furious fans demanded she apologise for the report. They accused her of spreading dangerous lies and intentionally causing hurt. 

“There was one guy in particular who spent the whole night harassing me and my employers, telling them to get me off air. Saying I should never work again and I need to be fired immediately for what I've done.” 

Semra had developed strategies for rising above sexist trolling, but this was different. People seemed to truly believe she was a bad person. It was the worst-case scenario of her imposter syndrome coming true.  

Seeking out support 

Semra’s colleagues were great. They checked in with her every day, took her out for coffee, and generally tried to provide distraction. But she’d been running on empty even before this incident—she needed a break. 

Semra went on holiday, switched off her phone, and disconnected from everything football. In the silence, she took stock of how deeply this incident had hit her. If she wanted to stay in the game, she’d need help to take care of her mental health. 

“I was able to cope with the sexist comments. But with this type of abuse, it got to a stage where I couldn't cope on my own anymore.” 

So for the first time in her adult life, Semra tried therapy. She started to learn more about herself, her imposter syndrome, and why baseless claims from angry strangers hit a nerve. Just having a dedicated space to discuss the intensity of the experience was a huge relief.

“It's been good to just get it out there in the open and have somebody who can help me to see things in a different way.”

<quote-author>Semra Hunter<quote-author> | <quote-company>Sports Broadcast Journalist<quote-company>

Leaving the office one day, she mentioned she was going for a therapy session to a colleague. He was incredibly encouraging—he’d been in therapy before himself, and found it helpful. 

"I think the best thing a male colleague can do is listen. It may be hard to understand when you've never personally been in that position before. But try to help the person feel their worth and value — not just as a person but as a professional."

With professional help, Semra began to recover her sense of security. She continued working as a football commentator for a Spanish broadcaster the whole time. But to consider the episode over, she wanted to ‘get back on the horse’ by covering the Champions League  again on the same network. 

When the draw for the game she’d report on was announced, she couldn’t believe it: Liverpool vs Real Madrid. Again.

Getting back in the game 

While many people might have taken this coincidence as a bad omen, Semra chose to see it as a positive. 

“I spun it around and thought, maybe this is a perfect opportunity for me to really finally close the door on this.” 

Semra was extremely nervous before kick-off. But in the end, it went fine. In fact, she’s since reported on five Champions League games and had an overwhelmingly positive experience. 

But no matter how careful Semra is, she knows it’s likely that disgruntled fans will pile on her again sometime in her media career. Backlash is an occupational hazard when you’re a professional opinion-haver. And in a media landscape dominated by six-second videos, statements are taken out of context all the time. 

But she's learning not to take the hate to heart—and to keep her inner imposter quiet.  

“As traumatic as it was, I think it’s made me a better professional. And maybe a better person. I have learned a lot that I’ll carry with me.” 

By getting support after this painful experience, Semra gained tools to navigate the lows that come with the dizzying highs of being a prominent female spokesperson for such a beloved sport. 

“If you’re experiencing hate comments due to your work, remember: you don’t have to go through it alone. Seek out other women or individuals in your industry who you can trust and confide in. Chances are, they’ve experienced the same problems at some point—and will be grateful for the chance to talk about it.”

This story was brought to you Oliva: your platform & partner for employee wellbeing. Learn more about Oliva here.

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