Upon further review, how the NFL mishandled the Monday Night Football controversy on social media.


I’ve been following the NFL for over 15 years now, ever since my dad took me to my first game in the fall of 1994. Along the way, I’ve seen my share of controversies and storylines, especially of late. It started with “Spygate,” followed by a sharp rise in the public’s awareness of player concussions, and the recent scandal known as “Bounty-gate.” For the most part, however, the drama surrounding the NFL has centered on off the field matters.

That changed this year when the NFL locked out the regular referees, choosing instead to use replacement referees for the beginning of the 2012 NFL season. The idea was, by all accounts, a failure, highlighted by the most recent Monday Night Football (MNF) game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. The final play of the game, a Hail Mary by the Seahawks, has been dissected by several angles, and has largely been credited with the recent deal between the NFL and the Referee’s Union that has put the regular referees back in action this week.

Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, NFL, Replacement Officials, Hail Mary

Largely ignored in the wake of the MNF controversy has been the NFL’s social media activity following the game. This has irked me all week, since I took exception to several moves made by the social media managers for the NFL that night.

Soon after the end of MNF, the NFL posted a status update on Facebook that read “Seattle wins on Hail Mary” accompanied by a photo of Golden Tate’s touchdown catch from earlier in the game.

The NFL's first Facebook status update following the Monday Night Football controversy

Within the hour, the NFL had changed the caption for the picture to read “FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 14, Packers 12.” The image, however, stayed the same.

Finally, the NFL decided to drop the entire status update, leaving fans to read the NFL’s previous official update from the game, which were video highlights of the Seahawks eight first half sacks.

So what are the problems here? Glad you asked.

First, the NFL’s social media managers greatly underestimated how big of a controversy this play and game result was. You might say that’s a fair mistake since the game had just ended, but anyone who watched the end of the game and any subsequent post-game show knew that the referee’s decision was going to blow up as a storyline. The NFL should have given the controversy the appropriate amount of attention online.

By posting a status update mentioning the Hail Mary without accompanying it with a picture of the play, the NFL seemingly assumed fans wouldn’t notice the difference or get angry at the misrepresentation. Guess what? Fans noticed, and they got angry.

The second mistake by the NFL was re-writing the update without any mention of the Hail Mary controversy. By doing so, the NFL looked as if it was trying to avoid the subject entirely, whether that was their intention or not. The problem with attempting to avoid the controversy (and really, any controversy) is that the subject was already too big to ignore. This is especially true in sports, where impassioned fans often overreact to plays and game outcomes that aren’t really that big of a deal. Did the NFL really think a game-altering call from a replacement referee wouldn’t result in outrage?

Finally, the NFL’s biggest mistake was deleting the post. Every time an organization deletes a controversial status update or tweet, numerous stories are published offering the reasoning for avoiding such a strategy. Yet somehow, organizations continue to delete entire posts on social networks. This includes, by the way, the NFL’s Twitter account, which tweeted “Touchdown or Interception? #GBvsSEA” and then later deleted the tweet. (Hat tip to Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) for catching that.)

The problem with deleting the post is two-fold: one, when controversy occurs, fans and customers want a soundboard on which to voice their opinion. This was clearly the case with the NFL, as their Facebook status update received nearly 10,000 comments in less than 45 minutes. That number is substantially higher than their other posts, which seem to average anywhere from a few hundred comments to a little over a thousand comments. By taking down the post, the NFL removed a vital soundboard, leaving angry fans to flock to other means to voice their opinions. Two, the deletion of the post furthers the perception that the NFL wanted to avoid the controversy entirely, an action that was neither smart nor even remotely possible at that point in time.

How should the NFL have handled the situation? They should have addressed the issue directly, acknowledging that Seattle defeated Green Bay on a controversial Hail Mary on the final play of the game, along with an image of the actual Hail Mary. Would fans have still written angry comments on the update? You bet. At least those comments would have been in one place though, making it easier for the NFL to manage information and respond if necessary. Additionally, they wouldn’t have been accused of masking the issue or avoiding it.

What do you think about the NFL’s Facebook practices in the wake of the MNF controversy? Should they have deleted the post? What would you have done differently? Do you think I’m overreacting? Please let me know in the comments.

Recapping social media’s reaction to the latest NFL replacement referee controversy

So if you went to bed early like me last night, you missed quite the show…

The NFL Replacement Referees made a controversial call on Seattle's "Hail-Mary" play at the end of ESPN's Monday Night Football.

The NFL Replacement Referees made a controversial call on Seattle’s “Hail-Mary” play at the end of ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

On Monday Night Football last night, the NFL replacement referees made a series of controversial calls and non-calls, culminating on the last play of the game, when they missed an offensive pass interference call by Seattle WR Golden Tate and ruled the result of the “Hail Mary” to be a touchdown, even though it appeared that Green Bay defensive back MD Jennings had control of the football over Tate. The result of the controversial call was a Seattle victory over Green Bay, 14-12.

Announcers, players, and fans alike all had plenty to say about the latest referee debacle, and the situation has dominated the day on social media. While I plan on writing a post on the NFL’s social media strategy (or lack thereof) after the incident, I want to give readers an opportunity to catch up on some of the better rundowns of the social media reactions to the NFL replacement referees mistake.

On Mashable, Sam Laird (@samcmlaird) has a gallery of some of the better Twitter responses by television personalities, professional athletes, and fans. – http://mashable.com/2012/09/25/twitter-nfl-controversial-ending/

On Twitter, CNBC’s social media manager Eli Langer (@EliFromBrooklyn) has a quick recap of the NFL’s bizarre Facebook status updates following the game. – https://twitter.com/EliFromBrooklyn/status/250455838572048384

While most of the Green Bay Packers have withheld opinions on Twitter, Packers Guard TJ Lang (@TJLang70) has done the opposite, sending a series of pretty explicit tweets directed at the NFL. – https://twitter.com/TJLang70?tw_i=250445192577036290&tw_e=screenname&tw_p=tweetembed

The Boston Herald has the story of a Wisconsin state senator who tweeted Roger Goodell’s office phone number. – http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/football/other_nfl/view/20120925wisconsin_state_senator_tweets_roger_goodells_office_number/srvc=home&position=recent

USA Today has a recap of the NFL’s statement following last night’s game, in which they support the call on the field of a touchdown catch by Seattle but acknowledge the missed offensive penalty call that should have ended the game and given the win to Green Bay. – http://www.usatoday.com/sports/nfl/story/2012/09/25/nfl-admits-error-in-seahawks-packers-game-but–upholds-result/57840636/1

Finally, Michael Sebastian (@msebastian) has a rundown on PRdaily.com about the NFL’s reputation problem following the latest replacement referee miscue. – http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/12749.aspx

I’ll be back later this week with some thoughts on the NFL’s social media gaffe’s this year.

Tweeting Off-Topic

It’s a big week for our country. There is a pretty important election happening in November, and after last week’s Republican National Convention, the Democrats are getting their turn in Charlotte, NC this week. For a large percentage of the country though, there is an even bigger event happening this week. That would be the return of football. Last night, the NFL kicked off its season with the Giants and Cowboys on NBC, while the rest of the league will debut this coming Sunday and Monday. As a sports fan, I can tell you that right or wrong, I’ve been more interested this week in the return of professional football than the pomp and circumstance occurring in North Carolina. I can also tell you that my Twitter stream, the majority of which is filled by sports writers, professional athletes, and other fans, has largely been more concerned with the same matter.

That makes sense to me. After all, you follow personalities and companies online expecting them to tweet about certain topics. I follow Adam Schefter for NFL transactions. I follow Peter King for player interviews and links to his articles. I follow the Boston Globe’s Patriots Twitter feed for links to stories about the New England Patriots. Sure, I might get a personal anecdote occasionally, but I’m ok with that. By and large though, I expect sports personalities to tweet about sports. This week, a large percentage of those tweets have been about the NFL. Adam Schefter has tweeted about player transactions occurring as teams make final tweaks to rosters, Peter King has tweeted his predictions for the upcoming season, and the Boston Globe’s New England Patriots handle (@GlobePatriots) has tweeted links to articles filed by Globe columnists about the Patriots. So you can imagine my surprise a few nights ago when the following tweet came across my timeline:

Like I said, I’m open to the occasional personal anecdote on Twitter. This tweet, however, didn’t make sense to me. Surprised by the total deviation in topic by the Twitter account (that’s obviously not a Patriots Update, as the Twitter handle leads followers to believe), I assumed that the social media manager for the account had accidentally tweeted the link from the wrong Twitter account. It’s not the first time such a thing has happened. The Calgary Flames are probably the most notable example of this happening before. You can find my recap of that situation, as well as my thoughts on sports franchises expressing opinions on Twitter here. Expecting the tweet to be deleted, I quickly quoted it and sent it as a reminder to other social media managers out there. Running personal and business Twitter accounts from the same device, whether that be a laptop or mobile device, is dangerous. Sometimes it takes seeing someone else’s mistake to alter one’s own communication methods.

Yet, hours later, the tweet remained. The following day, the @GlobePatriots resumed tweeting stories about the Patriots gearing up for week 1 of the regular season. That is, until last night, when, during the Giants/Cowboys NFL kickoff special, the following tweet appeared in my timeline.

This second tweet, to me, was a clear indication that the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle was tweeting #DNC2012 topics intentionally. So I sat down and thought about why an account such as this one would have sent these tweets out, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what benefits these types of tweets offer. They don’t contain links that direct back to the Boston Globe, so forget about site traffic. The information certainly isn’t relevant to all of the @GlobePatriots’ Twitter followers, so forget amplification and reach. The tweets don’t even really offer anything of substance. Sure, they’ll get the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle seen by those following the #DNC2012 hashtag, but again, the audience that’s following #DNC2012 on Twitter probably isn’t interested in Tom Brady’s latest conference call transcript or who the new center is on the offensive line.

And so, I’m stuck at square one. I’ve reached out to the Globe, via the @GlobePatriots Twitter handle, in the hope I’ll learn a bit about the strategy behind these rogue tweets. If they truly are accidents, the Globe doesn’t seem to be concerned with pulling them. If they are intentional, I’d love to know the purpose behind them.

Can you think of why an organization would tweet about topics unrelated to their general area of expertise? Do you think this was an accident by the Globe? Let me know in your comments.

What sports stadiums and European restaurants have in common

This past May, my wife and I spent a few weeks traveling in Europe, where we toured Paris, France for a few days before venturing down to Florence, Italy. As an American in Europe, I had very minimal awareness of the restaurant scene in either city apart from a bit of research on Trip Advisor and Yelp before flying across the pond. This seemed to be fairly common. On our first night or two in Paris, my wife and I saw tourists from all countries wandering the streets aimlessly at dinner time looking perplexed at menus written in a foreign language as restaurant employees stood in doorways making sales pitches in broken English.

People Love Us On YelpWhen we arrived in Florence, we were confronted by a different sales pitch. Restaurant upon restaurant with signs in the windows boasting about social network ratings. Signs that read “Check us out on Trip Advisor” or “People love us on Yelp.” In principle, I found this to be a much better sales pitch. The restaurants were allowing their customers, past and present, to do the selling for them.

The problem? Finding these reviews and ratings required an Internet connection, and as a tourist traveling on the budget, I had zero 3G coverage, and thus no access to the Internet outside of my apartment building. The result? Unable to check on recent reviews, my wife and I typically moved on from the restaurant.

At the restaurants we did walk into, we typically had great experiences. This was, after all, Italy. Again though, we were unable to take part in the social conversation about the restaurant by boasting about the restaurant on Yelp or posting pictures of our dishes to Trip Advisor.

These European restaurants had the right idea. They encouraged tourists to use social networks to find out more about them or document their own experiences. They just didn’t consider the necessary steps to facilitate such sharing. The restaurants could have remedied the situation by offering free Wi-Fi for customers to access their ratings. By not doing so, they created missed opportunities and frustrating moments for the me and other customers who wanted to take part in the online conversation featured by the restaurant but was unable to.

What does this long-winded story have to do with sports? Much like food experiences, sports are inherently social. You’ve probably read that phrase countless times if you’re interested in this sports/social media subculture, but it’s only repeated so frequently because it’s true. There’s a reason roughly half of the top 15 most tweeted-per-second events are sports related, including the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and FIFA soccer matches. There’s a reason Instagram photos posted by stadiums in Major League Baseball stadiums are up 400% from last season, according to VenueSeen. There’s a reason Perform sports media group found that twenty-six percept of sports fans were using social media to follow leagues, teams and players in 2012, a number up from 15% in 2011.

The 2nd Screen Viewing ExperienceWith all the social sharing and publishing happening during sporting events, it’s no longer satisfying for a fan to just watch the game. More and more, fans are consuming sporting events accompanied by a smartphone or tablet on which to join the online conversation on Twitter and Facebook or check a fantasy team to see how the latest touchdown or home run has impacted their weekly matchup.

So how does this relate to Wi-Fi? Fans want to watch the game and take advantage of the 2nd screen experience too. Too often though, stadiums are filled with tens of thousands of other fans wanting the same experience, which leads to congested 3G networks that get bogged down and offer unreliable service. As a New England Patriots fan, I can attest to this personally. I’ve attended multiple games at Gillette Stadium in the past year, and can specifically remember failed tweets, Facebook status updates, and Instagram postings that failed at every one of them. I know I’m not alone. Similar reports have surfaced from Citi Field in New York and Amway Arena in Orlando.

The effect of this is that, for the first time since I became a sports fan, the viewing experience is now arguably better for fans at home than at the stadium. This is obviously a problem for teams, who need fans in the stands to create a home-field advantage for the players. The stadiums, in effect, are like the European restaurants I encountered in May. They want patrons to be social and record their experiences, but lack the back-end support system to make it possible or reliable.

NFL Commissioner Roger GoodellSome leagues are jumping aboard the Wi-Fi bandwagon quicker than others. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said he wanted wireless Internet for all mobile devices in every NFL stadium, saying “We want to make sure that our fans, when they come into our stadiums, don’t have to shut down.” One thing specifically not mentioned in his remarks? The price of that Wi-Fi.

As the sports social landscape continues to evolve, it’s up to professional teams to ensure their stadiums offer free access to reliable Internet service, enabling fans to publish their in-game experiences. If they don’t, word will spread, and fans will slowly stop attending games in person. After all, sports are inherently social, especially in a fan’s living room.

Should Professional Franchises Express Opinions on Twitter?

This past February, the Calgary Flames found themselves in the midst of a Twitter crisis. As news spread that Edmonton Oilers forward Ales Hemsky would be receiving a new contract, a tweet went out from the Calgary Flames official Twitter feed that was less than professional.

The Flames quickly addressed the matter by removing the tweet and issuing an apology. Then, later that day, they addressed the problem directly on their website by explaining that the Social Media manager intended to tweet from his personal account, but accidentally sent the tweet from the Flames’ official account.

Accidental tweets aren’t a new phenomenon in the sports world. After all, when discussing sports, we’re often talking about emotionally charged individuals with the power to immediately reach millions of fans and journalists. In 2012 alone, we’ve seen accidental or controversial tweets from Sean Locklear of the Washington Redskins and Delonte West of the Dallas Mavericks, as well as former Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi, who tweeted “He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world” regarding Browns owner Randy Lerner. The tweet, like so many others, was meant to be a direct message intended for a colleague rather than public consumption.

So when news spread yesterday of Tim Tebow’s trade to the New York Jets, causing a Twitter explosion of news and opinions on the trade, it should have been expected that we’d be subjected to an accidental tweet. It seemed that we got one too, when the Washington Redskins official Twitter account tweeted the following opinion yesterday afternoon:

Yet 15 minutes after the tweet, it became clear it was no accident. Not only did the Redskins not delete the tweet, they defended it, twice. While that means we can’t add the Redskins to the list of organizations delivering accidental tweets, we can examine them as a unique sports organization that shares opinions on Twitter.

The Redskins, like other organizations, rely on a single person to manage team social media channels, and that’s ok. Additionally, one can assume that any person managing social media for a professional sports organization is a sports fan, and thus has opinions about signings, transactions and other happenings; and that’s ok too. When those elements are added together incorrectly, however, a team can end up in danger.

Social media managers need to remember that they aren’t just voicing their own opinion when using a platform like Twitter. Rather, they represent the entire organization or brand. In the case of the Redskins, that means players, coaches and front office personnel. Does head coach Mike Shanahan think Tebow and the Jets is an awkward fit? What about team owner Daniel Snyder? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, I don’t know. What I do know is that the Redskins social media manager didn’t either. I also know that even if Snyder and Shanahan did believe the Tebow trade didn’t make a lot of sense for the New York Jets, they certainly wouldn’t publish that information on any public platform.

Tweeting opinions, especially negative, about a competing organization is never a good thing. It’s irresponsible, unprofessional, and uncalled for. Athletes are frequently reprimanded for their inappropriate tweets. When they are, they often talk about their need to realize that they represent an entire organization when they vocalize their opinions. Why aren’t Social Media managers given the same treatment? If anything, the punishment should be more severe. These are professionals who supposedly know better.

Alas, Twitter is a notoriously fast moving medium, and the masses will quickly forget about the Redskins much in the same way they did the Calgary Flames. Regardless of the attention they get, the Redskins should do the right thing. They should pull the tweet and issue an apology.

What do you think? Do you agree that the Redskins made a mistake here, or do you believe opinions demonstrate the human element of otherwise boring organizational Twitter feeds? Let your voice be heard in the comments section.

Twitter Handles: Coming Soon to a Uniform Near You

It first happened on the PGA tour in early February. TaylorMade, one of golf’s biggest equipment vendors, stitched the sponsored Twitter hashtag, #driverlove, on the side of hats worn by golfers endorsed by the company. The tag was in reference to TaylorMade’s marketing campaign, which looks to characterize the feeling golfers have with TaylorMade drivers.

Philadelphia Wings Twitter Jerseys

It happened again a few days later, when the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League became the first professional sports team in America to wear jerseys with their Twitter handles on the back in place of their last names. The switch, which was the result of a campaign that sought to increase the awareness of the Wings’ Twitter presence, only lasted one game. The team raffled off the jerseys after the game for charity.

Then it happened again this past week, when Dexter Fowler of the Colorado Rockies tweeted a picture of teammate Eric Young Jr.’s cleats, which featured Young’s Twitter handle, @EYjr, on the heal of the cleat.

If once is an event, and twice is a coincidence, then three times is a pattern; and in this case, the pattern is clear: Twitter is infiltrating sports uniforms.

The reasoning behind the trend isn’t hard to figure out. Athletes are learning how helpful Twitter can be, when used correctly, in becoming more marketable and popular. Influential Twitter accounts can lead to new sponsorship deals, as Kevin Durant can attest to. Durant, one of the more influential NBA players on Twitter, recently partnered up with Nike for their newest product, the Nike+ FuelBand. Durant wore the band at the NBA All-Star festivities, and continues to wear the band today. During the day, he tweets about the amount of fuel he has earned, challenges fans to keep up with him, and on occasion, tweets back to those who have. The result is a powerful brand ambassador for Nike, new fans and followers for Kevin Durant, and a higher level of exposure for everyone.

Moving forward, more athletes and companies will look to create similar bonds as Twitter becomes a recognized platform to endorse products. When they do, companies will look for athletes with Twitter influence. Engaging with fans is the key component to building that influence, but the first step in the process is building a large following to engage with. To accomplish that, athletes need to promote their Twitter handle, and for an athlete, there is no better place to gain visibility then on the field. Hence, the growing trend of Twitter handles on uniforms.

For athletes then, the required task is finding an area on a uniform on which to put a Twitter handle. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Standing in every athlete’s way are league policies that state what can and can’t appear on a player’s uniform. Not surprisingly, for several leagues, the list of what can’t appear on a uniform is much longer and more detailed than what can. These policies force athletes to get creative, as Eric Young Jr. did when he put his Twitter handle on the heel of his cleat. Where else can we expect to see Twitter handles pop up?

Major League Baseball’s policy specifically violates patches and designs relating to commercial advertisements on any part of the uniform. However, one could argue that a player isn’t promoting a commercial entity if it is their personal Twitter handle. MLB also states, “any player other than the pitcher may have numbers, letters, insignia attached to the sleeve of the undershirt.” That would seem to indicate undershirt sleeves are fair game. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a Twitter handle appear on a player’s baseball glove at some point this season.

In the National Basketball Association, players will have to take a page out of Eric Young’s playbook and look to their feet. NBA’s uniform policy specifically states what is allowed in terms of writing on all pieces of NBA equipment, including headbands, wristbands, calf sleeves and arm sleeves. It also states that, “no unauthorized commercial, promotional or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification can be displayed on player’s body, hair or otherwise.” However, the sneaker section stipulates only that the sneakers must be white, black and the colors of the team identify only, and that the left and right sneaker must match. Adornments are also prohibited, so if an athlete wants their Twitter handle on their sneaker, they’ll need to have it built into the shoe design.

In the National Hockey League, the uniform policy doesn’t mention goalie masks or tape on sticks. Goalie masks can get pretty detailed, but I would bet that an artist could find space on there to include a Twitter handle above the facemask, where it would get plenty of exposure. Another area where a player could get their Twitter handle noticed would be on the stick’s blade. A player is allowed to tape the blade of the stick, and could easily write a Twitter handle using a permanent marker on the tape.

No league, however, is tougher to crack than the National Football League.

Steve Johnson Happy New Year undershirt

When it comes to uniform policies, the NFL is as detailed and restrictive as they come. This is, after all, the league that fined Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for wishing fans a happy new year on his undershirt this past season. The NFL includes “every visible item of apparel” in their definition of a uniform, meaning everything from shoelaces to athletic tape to sideline hats is covered. For athletes in the NFL, I suggest you get extra creative and shave your Twitter handle into the side of your head.

Other sports seem more willing to bend on uniform matters. One would think the PGA tour would be open to the idea of Twitter after the success of #driverlove. Nascar is a sport filled with decals, and is fresh off a Daytona 500 that made a significant impact on Twitter. Might they allow a driver to convert their name above the driver-side window to a Twitter Handle?

However and wherever it happens, Twitter handles will continue to make appearances on professional sports uniforms. For players who seek to use the platform as a marketing tool, visibility is imperative, and uniforms offer the perfect platform. Where do you think we’ll see Twitter handles next in sports? Do you think leagues will change their policies to become more accepting of athletes promoting personal Twitter accounts on the field? Let me know in the comments section below.

Journalist Tweeting Badly

When thinking about the way Twitter and professional sports relate to each other, a lot of focus is put on athlete tweeting. There are plenty of examples of professional athletes tweeting poorly. My last post mentioned Delonte West and Sean Locklear in particular, while more well-known examples include former Kansas City Chief running back Larry Johnson and San Diego Charger Antonio Cromartie. However, little attention is given to those who cover the athletes. Little attention is paid to beat writers.

Tony Grossi

For former Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi, less attention would probably be a good thing right about now. Grossi writes for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and until today, served as the Cleveland Browns beat writer for the paper. However, last week, Grossi send an inadvertent tweet pertaining to Browns owner Randy Lerner that said “He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world.” Grossi later deleted the tweet, but as is usually the case, his action was too little too late.

Grossi later apologized for the tweet in a video podcast, saying “Last night there was a comment attributed to me on my Twitter account.  It was inadvertent, it was inappropriate, and I do apologize for it.  I’ve reached out to Randy Lerner to apologize to him for it and we’ll just leave it at that. It was inappropriate and not meant to be tweeted, but it was inappropriate nonetheless.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer also apologized on behalf of Grossi, stating on their website, “Last night, Plain Dealer Browns beat reporter Tony Grossi made an inadvertent, inappropriate post to Twitter concerning Browns owner Randy Lerner.  Grossi has reached out to Lerner to apologize.  The Plain Dealer also apologizes.”

So how did this tweet happen? The most likely scenario is that Grossi was attempting to direct message a follower on Twitter. A direct message on Twitter is a personal tweet that only the person addressed in the message can read. However, if addressed incorrectly, or not at all, the tweet will become public, which is seemingly what happened to Grossi, who has over 15,000 followers on Twitter. Grossi isn’t the first journalist to make this mistake. The last well-known incident of this type occurred in in October of 2010 when Bill Simmons, the popular ESPN columnist, sent out a tweet that simply read “moss vikings”. Simmons quickly sent another tweet that read “Sorry that last tweet was supposed to be a DM. Rumors swirling about a Pats-Minny trade for Randy Moss.” However, soon after the initial tweet, rumors began to fly that Randy Moss, then a WR for the New England Patriots, was being traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Although the rumor was denied by all involved parties, a few days later, the trade went through.

For Simmons, the penalty was undetectable. He most likely got a scolding about knowing how to send direct messages on Twitter, and the incident probably prompted ESPN to send an email to all employees about the dangers of using the service incorrectly. For Grossi, the penalty was much higher. While he is still currently employed, he’ll no longer get to cover the Browns.

On second thought, maybe the punishment for Grossi is undetectable too.

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.