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How Social Media Helps and Hurts Athletes

These times they are a-changin’.

24 hour TV news, Twitter, Facebook, Radio talk shows, cameras on cell phones.  The world of 2013 is so different than the previous 50 years I grew up in.  Sometimes it’s the greatest and others, privacy is gone and long forgotten.

We hear stories about Bobby Layne, Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Studio 54 happenings, Joe Namath, Babe Ruth. Some of the stories are good and some bad, but almost all are word of mouth or from a newspaper report. Imagine if they were playing now!

An athlete can now be embarrassed in their own apartment with a cell phone video.  For some reason people believe that whatever they put out there on Facebook or twitter won’t be abused or misused. The level of sharing information has surpassed the development of people being careful about their private life activities. On top of all the stupid things people can do to hurt themselves, there are lots of people looking to bring athletes down because of the money they make.

All it takes is one video, one tweet, or one audio quote and a player is boxed into a corner for a settlement. Once your image is out there, saying something stupid or detestable, you can’t take it back. It’s the job of the individual to be smart and not put him or herself in questionable places or doing crazy things.

We have foolishness all around us these days, but sometimes it goes too far and becomes something worse. In my time as a scout, working with other scouts, character issues did make an impact on us. We wanted players who were good people, and these types of actions can cloud their consideration with an organization. Remember, no apology will ever erase what people have burned into their minds.

When players do foolish things:

  • Victor Cruz and Roddy White incite violence with their tweets after the Trayvon Martin verdict. Cruz had the class to admit that he was wrong to do so. Does anybody think that Victor Cruz or Roddy White were the first athletes to be angry about something? It’s because they have access to a global audience in the palm of their hands. What if Twitter had been around during the OJ Trial? While many people may feel that Cruz and Roddy White are justified in their anger, there is another example of stupidity that goes even farther.
  • Mike and Maurkice Pouncey were photographed wearing hats that read, “Free Hernandez”. Even if you played with, roomed with, or consider the accused a good friend,  you have to be smart and protect yourself. The situation here is even more foolish than White or Cruz because they went out and had these hats made. These brothers always seemed so classy, leaders on the field, and though we all have freedom of expression, this is one picture that hurt their reputation and apologies are coming.. It doesn’t matter whether or not Aaron Hernandez is a murderer. Players need to be smart.
  • Johnny Football (Manziel) keeps doing things that make me shake my head, constant complaints about his life and how tough it is, leaving Manning’s camp early, his arrest for a fight and partying etc . He’s blessed to come from a good family but if I was his Mom, I would tell him he needs to be humble as his Coach doesn’t seem to be able to reign him in.
  • Colin Kaepernick tweets wearing a Dolphins hat. He claims its no big deal and that he’s going to wear what he wants, but fans don’t take kindly to their players promoting other teams. It doesn’t matter who you are, fans care, always have, always will.

The last decade has changed the way people communicate. Every player now has their own TV network in their pockets, and they control the programming. Will they run it like a sports channel, or will it end up being HBO, not always appropriate for young people, many of whom are fans. Twitter and Facebook has “connected” us in so many ways, and separated us in so many other ways. Athletes can use their tweets to be leaders in their sports and great role models. Hopefully people learn the lesson that comes from this kind of behavior. No bad deed goes unpunished in the court of public opinion.

I’ve worked for a great man and business leader, Al Hendrickson, for the past decade  and one of his 10 rules of the road is:

“Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper.”

I agree.

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