Calling Out Athletes Who Tweet Irresponsibly

“If he was on my team, I’d be looking at him sideways.”
– Asante Samuel

“All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee…I played the whole season on one.”
-Maurice Jones-Drew

“Hey, there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart.”
-Derrick Brooks

“If I’m on Chicago, Jay Cutler has to wait ’til me and the team shower, get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!”
–Darnell Dockett

Pretty damning stuff from players around the NFL about Jay Cutler after Sunday’s loss. But now I’m calling out players who think they can just tweet and run. I’m sure this will be taken as bitterness from a Bear fan, but this issue didn’t start on Sunday and it won’t end there either. Tweets against other teams and other players can be harmless “trash talk,” but these tweets were not harmless. They were over the line and misinformed. Even before the full extent of Cutler’s injury was known or that doctors had advised him not to return to the field of play, his peers in the NFL were taking shots at him via Twitter.

Which begs the question: When do agents and teams step in to allow a balance of what is and isn’t fair game?

We know this much – if a tweet was about giving away team secrets, such as plays or observations from practice, the athlete in question would be in trouble through an immediate fine. Beyond that, however, there’s a gray area that needs to be better defined. So let’s do that.

Athletes should be allowed to tweet.
It’s a beautiful thing when athletes and celebrities become that much closer and down to Earth to the rest of us through social media tools. For all the flack Twitter gets as a social media tool compared to Facebook, we’re paying plenty of attention to it. We’re listening to Lebron, Shaq and others who are firing off tweets without giving it a second thought. People in the city of Chicago are talking as much about the aftermath of a game as the game itself because of Twitter.

I don’t blame Twitter, I blame the tweeter.

Limiting athlete usage of Twitter won’t solve anything. Just as I say regarding policies in the corporate world on this subject, you can’t ban social media completely. But you can put guidelines in place to be followed so that while your employees should feel free to use social media, they shouldn’t be allowed to embarrass those they represent without consequence. By the same token, athletes need to remember who they represent. They are employees of companies and endorsers of products. Maurice Jones-Drew is an employee of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He did not represent his employer particularly well upon firing off his tweet. But Twitter was not the problem. We know Twitter can be used just as powerfully for good causes. Instead, would it have killed any of these experts like Maurice Jones-Drew to turn to a person near him and say, “I’m going to rip Jay Cutler on Twitter. Do you think I should do it?” I doubt an agent or a coach would approve, so why did you do it, Maurice?

And now guess what? The next time the Bears see some of these tweeters, don’t be surprised if they put a little something extra on those tackles and blocks. Is it that different than the pitcher in baseball who throws a 95mph fastball suspiciously close to a batter and then the opposing team’s pitcher does the same in retaliation? Is it that different than the basketball player who performs a flagrant foul on another player going for a breakaway dunk?

It’s only different because it didn’t occur on the field of play. And that’s what makes it almost worse. The Bears are angry at themselves but they have a right to be angry at those who disrespected their Quarterback while sitting at home or in a studio. It appears semi-calculated, not in the moment. It was spiteful and jealous from players who were sitting at home, not something that developed on the field between opponents who are otherwise friends off the field.

Guidelines, guidelines, guidelines.

Just as we see in the business world among corporations that allow their people to use social media responsibly by outlining do’s and don’t of using it – and I applaud those who take this more realistic approach to guiding without eliminating – teams have to provide their players with guidelines for using social media tools. It’s not as bad as it sounds. If they can follow a playbook, they can follow rules on how to use social media in the right way. Keep the guidelines sensible instead of restrictive so that the players can have a certain degree of freedom. But in the same breath, establish what constitutes a violation, such as openly questioning the manhood of another player to the world.

I’m not asking them to stop tweeting or posting. I’m asking them to have common sense when they do. To treat the people who worked hard to get their same level with an equal amount of respect. Otherwise, I’m worried what starts as a comment taken the wrong way in the online world is going to turn into a consequence that hardly resembles professional sport in the offline world.

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2 thoughts on “Calling Out Athletes Who Tweet Irresponsibly

  1. Great article here. Man, the news never stops in the NFL eh? It has been really interesting to see all the different angles that people have been taking with regards to the Jay Cutler story. The players obviously have a dislike for Cutler and were not going to give him the benefit of the doubt on anything. I think it shows a lack of respect from his fellow NFLers, which can’t be a good sign for a player. Despite his god given abilities and him taking his team to the NFC Championship this year there is definitely something missing in Cutler. I personally think the players had the right to talk because, well, it’s a free country right. However, it can’t be any good for Cutler and Chicago has to figure out where they wanna go with their QB situation because I know a lot of NFL fans are calling for the Bears to go in a different direction. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/emotional-disconnect/

    • Thanks, Chris. Twitter is creating a house divided in Chicagoland on this – some are siding with the offending players against Cutler, some are siding against those players. You can count me in the second group. Cutler’s performance on the field (or lack of it) is one thing but questioning a player’s heart for the entire media universe to pick up on via Twitter is quite another. And that’s where I think these players were out of line. It may be a free country, but people don’t always get to speak their mind without consequences either. This has been a long-simmering issue that’s coming to a boil. Athletes that tweet “unchecked” put their teams and sponsors at risk to do damage control for them if they don’t know what to say and what not to say. Did Lebron James really need to tweet about “karma” when his former team got crushed in one of its worst losses of the season (he didn’t mention the Cavs’ ownership by name but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was no coincidence)? As I said, it’s a beautiful thing to have athletes connect with fans through Twitter, but you don’t give a kid the keys to a car without telling them how to drive it. Some social media guidelines won’t restrict the players — if anything it’ll protect them from themselves.

      As far as Cutler, we’re married to him for a few more years regardless and the fact remains this team reached a level that few fans thought they could. If Rex Grossman can take this team to the Super Bowl, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Jay to do it either.

      Checked out your blog and enjoyed it. Will visit your page often. Keep up the great work!

      Dan

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