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.

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.