Being A Fan Has Limits

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Marcus Grant

Marcus Grant did not deserve the treatment he received from so-called fans on Twitter following his decision to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program. (Image credit: The Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Twitter can be a real cesspool. It’s still my go-to social network, but its anonymity churns out vitriol beyond comprehension. Its trending topics lower the site’s collective IQ.

Sports fans contribute to the nonsense. Last night was the most recent example, and I’m sad to say it involved those who claim to support my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (which is a big reason why I became aware of it).

Marcus Grant, a freshman wide receiver and highly touted athlete from Groton, Mass., announced to his Twitter followers he was leaving the Iowa Hawkeye football program for personal reasons.

Twitter insanity ensued. Below are just a couple of examples of the hate directed at Marcus, who was merely sharing his reasoning behind a no doubt difficult decision.

One example of the hate thrown at Marcus Grant immediately following his announcement to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program.

This tweet has since been deleted by the user.

Let’s just get this out of the way now. Student-athletes are off limits when it comes to this type of reaction. So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

It’s simply unacceptable.

For #HawkeyeNation and most other fan bases, Twitter creates unique communities where news about teams and players breaks faster than anywhere else. Many join Twitter just to connect with like-minded fans.

So, first and foremost, let’s agree fans should not engage in the type of behavior exhibited during the Marcus Grant affair – or in other situations when a student athlete has, for instance, had a bad game, dropped a pass, fumbled a punt return, or any number of things.

So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

Let’s go a few steps further, though, shall we? It’s time for the grownups in the room to come together. Here are some things we all can do to prevent this type of behavior from happening again, or at least minimize its effects:

  • Tweet your support to student-athletes. Often. These are young kids, and at stressful times, they could use all the encouragement you can provide. It’s 140 characters, folks. One tweet. Think what good you could do.
  • Let’s not feed the trolls. It’s a worn-out statement, but attacking the attackers doesn’t usually advance the conversation and could potentially put you at risk.
  • Instead, rally your fellow fans to report those who attack student-athletes. How? Get them banned from Twitter – even if it’s just for a brief time. Learn more about the safe ways to report haters at Twitter’s Help Center.
  • Coaches and administrators: Make Twitter safe for your athletes. Teach them how to use social media, and provide them with the tools to keep the haters at bay.
  • NCAA officials: Create a real social media policy. Provide basic ground rules and training for your member schools and their student-athletes. Understand the medium and how it’s changing sports – hopefully for the better.

What else can we do? Add your ideas to the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

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Somebody Stop Dennis Dodd

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I know I said I wouldn't be writing much about the Iowa Hawkeyes, but someone has to stop Dennis Dodd and his witch hunt on the school's football program.

It’s time for Dennis Dodd to stop.

The controversy that was is the story Dodd keeps trying to resuscitate.

In his latest CBS-sanctioned witch hunt against Kirk Ferentz and Iowa Hawkeyes football program, Dodd throws speculation to the wind – predicting mass transfers as the ultimate punishment for the supposed wrong-doing that just had to have happened during those post-season workouts in Iowa City last month.

“With the school currently in the middle of a three-month investigation into the incident, dealing with possible transfers could be the next issue for coach Kirk Ferentz,” Dodd pontificated in his latest (Feb. 15) column on CBSSportsline.com, calling it the next potential “stain” on the program and Ferentz. 

Problem is, there’s no whiff of any transfers … by any Iowa players … involved in the workout or not. NOTHING. The only one still crowing about transfers is – you guessed it – Dennis Dodd. In fact, Ferentz just wrapped up a pretty fine 2011 recruiting class.

We’ve been here before when Dodd claimed University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics workers should have broken federal HIPAA laws and disclosed private health information about the Iowa football players hospitalized following those workouts. He was rightly shouted down for such nonsense, and should be for this latest piece of trash that CBS Sports passes off as journalism.

Interestingly enough, Dodd has not turned to his Twitter following to generate conversation around his latest post. No link to the site, no thought-provoking tweets to get his 8,600 followers talking. Perhaps the hundreds of tweets and replies the last time kept him from Twitter this time.

In the meantime, a few right-minded sports fans used Twitter to ridicule Dodd again, this time in smaller numbers. That tells me Dodd’s rants are less effective. People are tired of tirades. His idiocy is getting ignored.

And that, folks, is how you stop Dennis Dodd.

Thanks for being a fan.

5 Twitter Tips to Boost Your Fan Experience on Game Day

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In addition to being a social media dork by day, I also throw myself into cheering wildly for my two favorite sports teams – the Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers (who happen to be playing a pretty big game later today).

Just ask my wife and kids – if I’m not watching the Hawks or Steelers (both conveniently don the black and gold, by the way), I’m reading or tweeting about them.

More recently – I’ve been doing BOTH. Sort of like that old Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup commmercial, I’ve discovered Twitter (and sometimes Face book) and live sports go well together. It was this past season when I really began to appreciate the melding of sports and Twitter.

Let me preface by saying this new fan activity is NOT part of any live game experience. So, no, I was not tweeting while in the stands at Kinnick Stadium. Wouldn’t think of it. And as a long-distance fan (I live in Wisconsin) of the Pittsburgh Steelers, social media engagment is a great way to connect with like-minded fans (some of whom also live in Wisconsin, belive it or not).

However, with all social media conversations – especially Twitter – you have to have a thick skin and be prepared to cut through the clutter to find your sweet spot. Live sports moves fast, and so does the fan conversation. Keep up, contribute or get left behind. Or worse – ignored.

Be patient, too. It takes time to find the fans you appreciate – and who appreciate you. There’s a ton of nonsense out there – from every team in every sport.

With that in mind, I offer these 5 tips to get started on your Twitter/fan experience:

  • Create a follower list of your favorite sports teams: That includes fans, writers, coaches and players. Twitter lists are a great way to differentiate any other activities or passions you might share on Twitter.
  • Don’t overdo the RT. Once you’ve joined a team’s following – large or small – you don’t have to RT everything about your team. It becomes downright ridiculous to read the same tweet 25 times.
  • Use your team hashtags (#) when posting. This helps tell your followers – especially those who don’t follow your team – that this tweet is about the #Steelers or #SteelerNation.
  • Send a quick disclaimer if you’re going to be in-game tweeting. Your non-sports followers might cut you some slack if you warn them ahead of the big game.
  • Include a sentence about your team loyalty in your Twitter profile. This gives any potential follower the heads-up that, hey, you’re passionate about your team, and that your tweets will reflect that passion.

Got more tips? Add them in the comments below.

For now, I’m headed to the big screen to watch my Steelers play in Super Bowl XLV. You might even catch me tweeting about the action, too.

Thanks for being a fan.

From Kenneth Cole to Dennis Dodd: Shouting Down the Social Media Nitwits

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Social media nitwit #1: Kenneth Cole

NO ONE is in charge of social media.

The millions of simultaneous conversations ARE the story, and no matter how big of a loudmouth you are, you will fail trying to artificially insert yourself into the conversation.

Yet every now and then, those social media loudmouths go too far, say the wrong thing, and get shouted down – in very public and appropriate ways – for their ridiculousness.

Yesterday was a perfect example.

Perhaps you saw Kenneth Cole’s outrageous tweet  – trying to make his spring collection relevant among all the chatter around the dire situation in Egypt.

It was a huge failure. Embarrassment ensued, and Twitter Nation jumped all over Cole, who removed the tweet and has since apologized. But Cole’s reputation is damaged – perhaps permanently – for his social media insensitivity.

In sports, the stakes are usually a lot lower than politics, current events or a host of other much more important topics. And rightfully so. But when something happens in social media that affects the lives and future livelihoods of 13 young athletes, it becomes a different story.

Yesterday, we also saw a social media reaction that was less public than the Kenneth Cole/Egypt fiasco, but one that landed much closer to home for me.

Social media nitwit #2: Dennis Dodd

Dennis Dodd, a veteran college football reporter for CBSSports.com, made some comments on Twitter about the controversy surrounding the Iowa Hawkeyes football team and the hospitalization of 13 of its players following a vigorous postseason workout.

While the players were recovering at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, some employees there illegally and improperly accessed player medical records – presumably out of curiosity or perhaps in an effort to provide private details to the media. No one really knows for sure.

Dodd saw blood in the water, and an opening to insert himself into the Iowa story and perhaps keep it fresh.

“If these hospital staffers leaked information that is, in THIS case, a good thing. The public deserves to know,” Dodd’s first tweet on the subject read. He continued in a follow-up tweet: “I can’t speak for HIPPA [sic] violations or medical ethics but if the leaked info we know more now that we did a week ago. That’s a good thing.”

A good thing? Let’s examine this from a legal standpoint first. Those health care workers potentially violated the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by illegally accessing electronic medical records.

If you haven’t heard much about HIPAA, know this: It’s a big deal if you work in a hospital – in any role.

I know. I was working in media relations/communications – at that very same hospital (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics) – when HIPAA was implemented. There were detailed and serious training sessions – by everyone. And the consequences of accessing or sharing private patient data are severe. 

Ask the three UIHC employees who lost their jobs over this just how severe. I feel for my former UIHC colleague, Tom Moore, who has had to clean up from this mess.

Yet Dennis Dodd still didn’t get it. The story was over. But he must have thought there was more there – some kind of Watergate-like conspiracy as he wrote yesterday. Is that why he posted those provacative comments on Twitter?

Jon Miller of HawkeyeNation.com has the best take I’ve seen anywhere on Dodd’s motives, and I can provide no better summary and commentary. Well done, Jon.

What I can summarize is the resounding response Dodd received on Twitter for his ignorance of HIPAA, his reckless reporting, and his insensitivity to the futures of those 13 young student-athletes, who happen to play for the team I cheer for and adore – the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Here’s just a sample of the @ replies Dodd has received on his Twitter account:

From drshawnpet “You’re erroneously equating the words ‘privacy’ & ‘secrecy’; secrecy connotes ‘cover-up’ — there was none at Iowa.”

From bradybogue: “So you are encouraging breaking the law and violating privacy rights of college students? You need professional help, dude.”

From bobthehitman: “Public good my ass. It’s none of your business and you are advocating people to break the law. Go crawl back in your hole.”

From EricGpaEtzel “Please stop this inflammatory diatribe. In every case, patient info should be kept private. End of story.”

And my favorite, from China_Wall: “Post your medical records online. I’m concerned retardation is a common gene in your family & the public deserves to know.”

There are HUNDREDS more like these, all outing Dodd as a pot-stirring shock-jock with less-than-geniune motives. The story was over, but Dennis Dodd didn’t want it to be, so he inserted himself into the conversation with a few flaming tweets.  

Thankfully, social media was there so Dodd could be shouted down by much smarter people who really do get it. And THAT is the end of the story. 

Thanks for being a fan.