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.