The Twitpic That Changed Everything

September 7, 2011

Last week sure was a contentious one for football players on Twitter.

Here’s a quick recap: Darnell Dockett of the Atlanta Falcons tweeted about almost bringing a gun to practice by accident. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson ripped “fake fans” about being critical of his contract holdout. Then, most interestingly, NFL rushing champ Arian Foster tweeted a picture of his MRI (see above), which sent analysts and fantasy football geeks into a frenzy.

Come to think of it, it’s been a contentious few months for athletes on Twitter, as Pittsburgh Steelers star Rashard Mendenhall commenting on Osama bin Laden’s death, and Reggie Bush, then of the New Orleans Saints, merely tweeting that he was “relaxing” during the NFL lockout caused mini-controversies. Last week just kicked things up a notch.

Did all these cases demonstrate questionable judgement? Sure. After all its reputation management, the NFL doesn’t need fans reading tweets from players about their guns or lack of respect for fans. Nor does a franchise (Houston) need a player (Foster) giving people outside the organization information about injuries. This is all true, but I also see what Foster means when he tweeted in response to the backlash to his Twitpic, that “humor is lost nowadays.”

Just as much as players need to quadruple check their tweets before they send them and know that reporters are constantly watching their feeds for story leads, we all need to lighten up a little bit. Dockett didn’t do anything illegal, Johnson had the right to be upset at people calling him greedy and Foster was giving fans the insider access they crave. Bush’s tweet should maybe be the first example pointed to in terms of people getting riled up for no good reason.

My fear is that the negative attention that these tweets caused (especially Foster’s), is going to stick with observant players, as well as coaches and general managers. That could mean players being banned from using social media, having to run updates by team employees or just choosing not to participate to stay safe will become more and more common. Who wants that?

Remember back in 2008 when Shaq joined Twitter, and all the fun that athletes like Ochocinco and Dwight Howard have brought since social media has blown up? Examples such as these have led to a few years of social media marketers predicting how bright the future of sports will be when social media becomes fully integrated into the day-to-day operations of teams. We might not see that day.

Yes, SportsCenter anchors reference social media posts daily, and the in-stadium experience has improved significantly by what teams are doing with location-based marketing and social media promotions through mobile. So it has come a long way.

But it’s the direct access to players that fans get the most excited about, and with the over-scrutinizing of every tweet that every athlete sends revving up and fans starting to get really carried away with their criticism of the players, that access may start to diminish. Can you say NFL social media lockout?