Rhys Porter is a young Fulham fan who was trolled online because of his disability. He’s turned that experience into a big step forward for disabled football supporters.
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today, Fulham fan Rhys Porter proves that it’s not the critic who counts.
Just picture the scene. A football mad 13-year-old who has been trolled online because of his disability is sitting in his wheelchair, talking about his experiences live on BBC Breakfast.
As presenter Naga Munchetty asks him how he thinks Tim Ream, a defender at his beloved Fulham, can improve on his game, the boy, Rhys Porter, can’t come up with any critique.
Unbeknown to Rhys, Tim Ream was approaching him from behind. When the reality of his hero standing beside him sunk in, Rhys was overcome with emotion.
The video went viral, and was viewed 1.3 million times on Twitter alone.
Rhys has suffered from Quadraplegic Cerebral Palsy since birth.
He posted a video of himself on TikTok playing in goal, and received thousands of nasty replies. When his club, Fulham, heard about this, they arranged for him to meet his hero Tim Ream.
I spoke to Rhys and his Mum, Kelly Porter, about the experience.
“I was just scrolling through pages and pages of really vile messages…”
“You’re just mocking someone without the thought that they’re actually reading it. And again, an ignorant perception that OK, he’s disabled so he’s not going to read this, I mean somebody actually wrote that, it’s not as if he’s actually gonna read this or see this – he’s disabled! And you just think well actually there’s a whole family at are reading these things being said about their loved one.”Kelly Porter
And even though the messages were so upsetting, they didn’t try and hide them from Rhys.
“We knew 100% that he would read them and there was no way to hide him from that and he shouldn’t be hidden from things because again that’s a big part of equality and inclusion is that I’m not gonna hide him from it because he’s disabled… he deserves to see and he deserves to sort of work through those things himself.”Kelly Porter
Rhys says that people don’t take the time to get to know him.
“Instead of like asking someone what do you think about that or this or what football team do you support… or like who do you go and watch or something like that. People don’t ask you that question because their perception is that you don’t know what it is or you’ve never been to that…”Kelly Porter
And actually, when you do talk to him, you realise – of course – that he’s a football mad 13-year-old. He plays FIFA in his spare time.
The people who posted the comments tried to make him feel inferior. But Rhys is incredibly positive and passionate about inclusion for disabled people.
He’s raised over twenty thousand pounds for scope and he’s created his own equality and inclusion campaign called BU By Rhys. We’ll link to those at the end.
Fulham wrote on their website they were “completely inspired by Rhys… his attitude in the face of adversity… and his commitment to helping others.”
“I think like… it’s a thing that should always happen in life like everyone should treat everyone equally and should have the same opportunities as anyone else… you should be able to do what anyone else does and that’s why I wanted to switch it around.”Rhys Porter
Rhys said that meeting the Fulham players and having them celebrate with him when they scored versus Coventry made him feel… amazing.
He said it made him feel recognised… and he says that’s exactly what he’s been fighting for.
“I hope that people will consider disability a bit more, and equality because I think that’s very important. Like I just said, even just speaking to someone and saying oh, what team do you support, what do you do? Or stuff like that… it makes… it proves that we’re moving.”Rhys Porter
TikTok actually banned Rhys after he received the negative comments. They said that his video had breached their community guidelines. They include things like violent extremism, adult nudity, suicide and self harm. This was just a disabled boy playing in goal.
And although his account was later reinstated, no action was taken against the people who posted the comments.
His Mum thinks that social media companies could learn a lot from talking to Rhys about his experience.
There’s a Theodore Roosevelt quote which begins “it’s not the critic who counts.”
The former US president went on to say: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.”
Rhys Porter put himself in the arena. He said it took “courage” to speak up for himself and other disabled people.
I reckon that Roosevelt would say that the credit definitely belongs to him.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.