Some Athletes Should Take a Twitter Vacation

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In an ideal world, social media provides everyone with an engaging way to communicate with people of all kinds.

In the sports world, social media is often a channel filled with ugly, hateful and often ridiculous messages.

I’ve already touched on the Jay Cutler issue from last week in this Fourthand140.com post. And much of the mouth-breathing that happens on social networks around sports – specifically Twitter – comes from fans, as it did in the Cutler case.

But athletes can just as easily make fools of themselves in 140 characters or less.

Enter Antonio Cromartie. Already a defensive back with a reputation for being loud-mouthed, number 31 also uses his Twitter account to talk trash to fans, followers and other players.

In the past week, he’s reached out his 76,000+ followers to:

1) Physically threaten Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck.
2) Belittle and berate followers and fans.
3) Alienate himself from other NFL players as it relates to the fast-approaching collective bargaining agreement. 

Let’s also not forget Cromartie’s public strategy for covering Pittsburgh Steelers WR Hines Ward in the AFC championship game last week – outlined to the media as this:

“Grab his ass by the throat and choke the s— out of him.”

Stay classy, 31.   

Thankfully, Cromartie is headed to the offseason, where his venom will have less impact. But his actions on Twitter are unfortunate for fans and followers alike.

Why use Twitter like this? Perhaps the on-field trash-talking persona feels just as good online for players like Cromartie. Because he’s not alone. Other athletes use Twitter as a tool for intimidation, anger or mean-spiritedness.

Some high-profile examples include the Buffalo Bills Kawika Mitchell and his less-than-enthusiastic welcome to teammate Richie Incognito; the Maurice Jones-Drew/Jay Cutler fiasco, which MJD has backed down from somewhat; and the ongoing team photo fiasco with Green Bay Packers “teammates” Aaron Rodgers, Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley. Many others could make the list…

I’m a social media purist, so when I see this kind of behavior, it’s disappointing. It’s even more so when it comes from athletes who should know better, or at the very least, should take the high road. Cromartie has done neither.

The collision of social media and sports has been a fast and violent one, giving fans unique and authentic views of the lives of athletes. Many times these are glimpses they could never have gotten without social media. Other times, unfortunately, they see very raw, uninspriring and disappointing behavior.

As ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill put it, “Sports thrive on personalities… Twitter isn’t perfect (what form of technology is?) but at least it doesn’t always give us such a one-dimensional view of athletes.” 

Yes, we need those personalities to make the games – and the inevitable off-seasons – more interesting. But that doesn’t excuse decency or kindness. I’m not asking for a sanitized glimpse into their world – just one that has a little more civility.

Thanks for being a fan.

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Twittericulous: Fans, Players Torch Jay Cutler on Twitter

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Jay Cutler is not a likeable fellow. But no one deserves this.

Dinged with an undisclosed knee injury during Sunday’s NFC championship game against the Packers, the Bears’ coaching staff pulled their fiery yet controversial starter for Todd Collins.

And ridiculousness ensued.

Following the injury (which the Fox announcers handled POORLY), Cutler was seen sulking on the sidelines… sitting alone on the bench… riding a stationary bike. 

That’s when the bloodbath by Bears fans, Cutler-haters and even current and former NFL players began on Twitter, where the break-kneck speed of 140 characters and no common-sense filter played out for all to see.

I get that Twitter can be a cesspool, no matter the topic. But many of these were Bears fans (presumably) who were throwing Cutler – torn knee ligaments and all – under the bus. DURING the game!

Here’s just a PG-rated sampling of the Twitter nonsense:

“Wow, I bet the fact that Jay Cutler isn’t out on the field fighting with his team is just eating him alive!! #sarcasm #CutlerSucks

“HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart” #Bears #Packers #CutlerSucks

“I’d rather bet that the #Cutler trending topic shifts to #CutlerSucks by the end of the game, than bet on the final score. Takers?”

These were tweets DURING the game. The Packers had not finished off the Bears until late in the fourth quarter. With third-string QB Caleb Hanie leading the way, the Bears came ever-close to knotting the game up at 21.

Following the loss, though, Bears fans took their anger from Twitter to the parking lots surrounding Soldier Field.

Yes, they actually burned Jay Cutler jerseys – presumably the ones they wore into the game. Above is a picture of one such incident – shared on Twitter.

Bears fans quickly forgot why their team was even playing that day. Jay Cutler (and a pretty stout defense) led them to the NFC North title and a No. 2 seed. It was Cutler’s ability to complete passes to a less-than-stellar receiving corps that helped the Bears reach the playoffs.

Still, Jason Whitlock, current and former NFL stars, sports columnists and commentators piled on, and continue to do so despite the knowledge that Cutler tore his MCL and that he was not cleared to play by his coach and team medical staff.

So, I say – enough.

Twitter will continue to be a junkyard that’s 90 percent garbage. With so many users, that’s inevitable. But sports fans don’t need to stoop to the that level.

It’s time for some sports civility on Twitter. If you see it, call these “fans” out on it. Don’t pile on. Unfollow. Block.

Sure, Jay Cutler is easy to hate on. But this time, he didn’t deserve it. And this kind of nonsense has no place in sports – or social media.

Thanks for being a fan.

Steelers Use Facebook Page to Stir the Pot Before NFL Divisional Playoff Game

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Today’s NFL divisional playoff games are already ripe with potential controversy. On a cold day in January, there’s some nice heat generating from social networks related to NFL officiating.

First, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted this news from the NFL front office:

“Ray Anderson [NFL senior vice president of football operations] warned teams if any illegal acts occur during this weekend’s games, past comments will be considered in evaluating discipline.”  

Though not playing this weekend, Jacksonville Jaguar RB Maurice Jones-Drew quickly replied to Schefter’s post with this:

“So in other words they want us to be robots… Have no emotion or passion and we are talking about playoffs (jim mora voice)”

Jones-Drew’s tweet is another shot at the NFL – oft referred to as the No Fun League – for its crackdown on players who show a lot of emotion, character or celebratory actions during games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fired their own salvo of sorts at NFL officials not long after.

Just hours before the Steelers were to take on the Baltimore Ravens in Heinz Field, the team’s Facebook page posted this interesting item (courtesy of their research team I’d imagine):

NFL players – Steelers ROLB James Harrison inparticular – have been hit with a barrage of fines and flags for illegal hits this season. Some of his teammates and even other players in the league came to his defense following the fines.

Now it appears the Steelers front office – or at least its marketing department – is doing its part to rile up fans with that post today.

What’s especially interesting is the timing. It was posted early enough in the day where many ticket holders would be able to see it, and would thus be prepared when they enter Heinz Field and begin cheering for their beloved Steelers – or perhaps more importantly, boo the officiating crew.

Is the post a little off-limits by the Steelers? It definitely stirred the pot with fans, based on the more than 1,000 comments left on the post. I think it’s great info to have for fans – nothing erroneous was reported.

And what of the subject of trash-talking? The NFL is putting its foot down for sure. But it’s hard to cool the emotions around a divisional playoff game when SO much is at stake.

What do you think? Share your comments.

And thanks for being a fan.

Social Media and Sports: A Crazy-Fun Elixir

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It was a collision bound to happen. And no one got fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Social media and sports bumped into each other, way before “Web 2.0” was thrown around. When did it happen? No one can really pinpoint a time – late 90s perhaps – when those first fan forums sprouted. They were led by average Joes who wanted to annonymously rant about their favorite team. You joined these networks of like-minded and not-so-like-minded fans to hear what everyone was saying about a certain player, or last weekend’s game, or the new coach that just got hired.

They flourished and became mainstream. They generated news, sometimes, or buzz at the very least. They got noticed by teams, by the traditional media and by more and more fans.

It wasn’t long before mainstream social networks – like Facebook and Twitter – took hold, and sports piled on like a scrum for a loose ball. Everyone wanted a piece. Everyone wanted to come out holding the ball.

And why not? It was an elixir for today’s uberfan – that perfect mix of jack and coke or cold beer with pizza. Today’s social media channels are souped-up versions of those first clunky fan forums. They can enhance your fan experience and connect you with your favorite team or player like never before. 

Today, sports personalities are tweeting and Facebooking every day. Teams are announcing news on social networks – sometimes before they hit traditional media outlets. And those traditional media outlets are checking social networks and finding news where it used to never exist. 

Traditional fan forums are still around, but they’re being supplemented and enhanced by Twitter and Facebook. The whole sports fan experience has changed – and continues to evolve. 

So what? Well, that’s where I come in. And why I created this blog. It’s here where I’m going to attempt to highlight some of the many ways social media affects the sports world – from the simplest pee-wee football game to a 70,000-seat stadium on NFL Sunday.

I’m not a sports expert. I’m an average fan like most of you. But I do live and breathe social media, and I’ve been a writer for nearly two decades. So, I hope I can provide a different perspective – one that you won’t read anywhere else.

Pretty lofty goals, but give me a chance. And if you have a topic you’d like to see examined here, drop your idea in the comment section.

Thanks for being a fan.