For Sports Organizations, focus on your reserves

On Twitter, sports stars are king. Kaka, the star midfielder for Real Madrid, has 7,900,242 followers, according to tweeting-athletes.com. Stateside, Shaquille O’Neil leads the way with 4,757,533 Twitter followers. In the NFL, Chad Ochocinco is tops with 3,112,844 followers. If you look at tweetstargame.com, a site dedicated to measuring athlete Twitter influence, measured by Klout, you’ll find a list filled with household names such as LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Kevin Durant, Drew Brees and Dwyane Wade.

For these athletes, achieving a high number of Twitter fans isn’t difficult. Step one is to perform well on the field, ice or court. Step two is to create a Twitter account. However, with gaudy point totals and Twitter followers comes a responsibility to behave oneself online. The microscope is always closer on the “face of the franchise”. As such, rarely do you see these athletes rock the boat on Twitter. Rather, these athletes use Twitter to tweet casual messages to fans or post pictures from the weight room. For sports organizations, this lack of drama is a blessing, and should give them the necessary courage to take advantage of their stars’ Twitter influence by @ replying or re-tweeting athletes on the team.

Conversely, organizations need to be wary of their reserve players’ Twitter presence. Two recent events demonstrate this point. Last week, after the final game of the season, Washington Redskins backup offensive lineman Sean Locklear voiced his displeasure with the Redskins exit meeting after the season. Locklear tweeted “Worst exit meeting ever! No coaches, no front office, just physicals and goodbye to teammates! We did just spend 5 mos together, wow!” Locklear soon after deleted his tweet, presumably after some fan backlash, and tweeted an apology that read “Whoa, I apologize Redskins nation, didn’t mean to cause and stir! Gotta keep feelings out it! #business”

For Locklear, the deleted tweet and subsequent apology was too little too late. The following day, word of the tweet reached coach Mike Shanahan, who obviously was not pleased with the backup lineman’s words. As of now, Locklear is still on the roster, but you can bet the Redskins won’t be afraid to make an example of a player who only started four games, all losses, should he step out of line again.

So why did Locklear make such emotional feelings known on a public platform? Most likely, it was due to him being a backup offensive lineman, a mostly anonymous position, especially on a losing team. I’m sure Locklear didn’t think his tweets would be read and reacted to on such a large scale. It’s here that lies the problem. For organizations, this point must be stressed to all players: on the Internet, and Twitter especially, everything is reacted to on a large scale. Everything is public. Everything is instantaneously available. Star athletes get this. Do you think Rex Grossman or Santana Moss would have tweeted like Locklear? No chance. They have too much to lose. Yet most backup and fringe roster players have their guard a little lower. There are no sponsorships or jersey sales to lose. These players can be lured into thinking that nobody is paying attention.

More recently, Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West took to Twitter in a late-night rant after it was discovered he would not be able to attend the White House for a visit with President Obama, as is customary for the champions of the NBA to do each year. West, a seven year NBA veteran of several teams, was arrested in 2009 on gun charges, when police found guns in a guitar case he was carrying during a traffic stop. Publicly, West was contrite when asked about the incident, telling the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “That’s what happens when you make bad decisions in your life. You can’t go to the White House.” However, on Twitter, West ranted about the incident in a series of ten tweets, some with profanity included, that discussed everything from his gun charges to his sleeping in his car some nights to his salary reduction.

For West, the issues run a bit deeper than with most athletes. In 2009, he missed some time while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers while he battled depression and bipolar disorder, according to bleacherreport.com.  For players with these types of issues, the issue of Twitter use is a more serious and delicate issue. Again, it’s up to organizations – in this case, the Dallas Mavericks – to have an open line of communication with West at all times about his candidness on Twitter and other media platforms. One could make the argument that for the Mavericks, it is of more importance that they monitor West’s Twitter use, despite his less than 17,000 followers, than someone like Lamar Odom, a more famous player with over 2.5 million followers. For Odom, the dangers of Twitter are known. For West, they either aren’t, or he isn’t stable enough to recognize or care about them.

The matter isn’t easy. Organizations must walk the fine line of letting athletes know the dangers of Twitter without scaring players away. If used correctly, Twitter can be a massively effective tool for an athlete to boost his or her popularity. However, when used incorrectly, it can lead to a bad reputation for organizations, and a loss in playing time, lower salaries, a loss in marketability, or even the unemployment line for athletes. Sean Locklear has avoided that pitfall. So has Delonte West. Others will not be so lucky. For organizations and reserve players alike, the reality is that there is a lot to lose.

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2 Comments

  1. JW

     /  January 11, 2012

    Twitter isn’t the problem…stupidity is. Athletes stuck their feet in their mouths long before social media. Pro sports organizations need to understand they are dealing with many (not all, mind you, but many) people who are seriously under-educated. These organizations need to understand it falls on them to make up for this education gap, lest they run the risk of having chronic instances of “problem children” drawing the wrong kind of publicity.

    Reply
  2. Steve A

     /  January 12, 2012

    That’s exactly my point. I agree that Twitter isn’t the problem. But what it has done is given athletes a public platform to vent on whenever the mood strikes. Take Delonte’s rant for example. Prior to Twitter, that never would have happened, because by the time the media were given access to him again, he would most likely have cooled down. Because of Twitter though, he’s able to vent impulsively. Organizations need to be aware of that ability, especially with athletes who are known as “loose cannons.”

    Reply

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