The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.
– Joseph Priestley
With greater technology comes greater responsibility, but it seems athletes and celebrities didn’t get the memo on the greater responsibility part. Social networks have been a great tool for interacting with fans, but increasingly this interaction is backfiring. As fans, we can join fan pages on Facebook or add the players’ personal Facebook as a friend, follow them on Twitter, watch and interact with them live on Ustream, or visit the players’ personal websites, giving us a feeling of connection with our favorite – or in some cases least favorite – players. There is no boundary to protect the fan and player from each other online. We no longer believe that players are invincible because we know what he ate for lunch and when he woke up from his pre-game nap.
The biggest and most instant form of social media seems to be Twitter. Twitter took Facebook’s connectivity status to another level by providing instant thoughts and conversations, displayed in short, 140-character snippets. Fans can be vocal and establish a dialogue or silently stalk players from the shadows and develop a sense of connection with the player. Players can hold contests for fans, plan structured meetings, or advertise events and promotions. This is great when used correctly, but it seems as if players and fans alike are increasingly finding that Twitter can be just as harmful as it is helpful and entertaining.
Many times we place players on a pedestal and Twitter gives us the chance to see them mess up when otherwise we may have never known. Frustrations, annoyances, comments on games, coaches, and referees all show up on Twitter. Those last couple can get your favorite player in a lot of trouble with their team and the league. To combat players using Twitter inappropriately, rules have been put in place rules restricting when and what can be said regarding games, practices, and about NBA or team business.
Milwaukee Bucks’ star Brandon Jennings was fined during his rookie season for posting a congratulatory tweet after a victory, not for what he tweeted but when he tweeted. He failed to adhere to the league’s rules of not tweeting 45 minute before or after games. Jennings isn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, player fined for violating the NBA’s Twitter policy. Shaquille O’Neal and Charlie Villanueva have been among the players to be fined for their Twitter use (more on both in a minute).
One such way players are using Twitter to form a bond with their fans is to organize meetings, which O’Neal recently demonstrated on his Twitter page by inviting his fans in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to come say hi while he sat statue-like in Harvard Square. O’Neal’s Celtics’ teammate Ray Allen has used Twitter to give away his worn sneakers by hiding them all over Boston. Anyone who knows about Allen’s sneaker game knows how incredible of an opportunity that was for his fans.
The most entertaining, and most damaging for the player, thing that happens on Twitter is when players forget just how public and global Twitter is. Tweeting something is forever; sure it can be deleted, but the damage is usually done by the time the tweet is removed. Recently, as discussed on Hoops Karma, Carmelo Anthony played into the foolishness by threatening Kat Stacks, the newest groupie trying to get rich sleeping with famous men, because she posted flirtatious tweets on her Twitter page regarding Carmelo. The Denver superstar, in an attempt to show Stacks he and his family weren’t to be messed with, tweeted that he was willing to pay a substantial sum to anyone with proof of causing her bodily harm, an action that is clearly against the law.
This picture, which was posted on Twitter, got Michael Beasley in trouble and in rehab. Supposedly that's a bag of marijuana in the bottom-right next to the 7-Up.Michael Beasley showed the good and bad Twitter can do when he self-destructed in 140 characters and Twitpics. Beasley tweeted his depressed feelings and a seemingly innocent picture depicting a new back tattoo and, sadly, a bag of marijuana in the background. After posting these tweets, Beasley was sent to rehab in Houston, TX, where he reportedly spent at least 30 days receiving treatment for his drug use and his depression. Who knows - Twitter might have saved Beasley from self-destruction.
LeBron James recently became a victim (yes, being senselessly attacked without provocation makes one a victim) of viscious fan ridicule on Twitter. James was sent tweets that were very racist in nature, and he chose to retweet them so the world could see the kinds of negative fan interactions he and other players are often exposed to. Having over 1,000,000 followers, many of whom are sports writers and other famous people, anything he tweets or retweets is literally worldwide in seconds. Whatever your feelings on the man himself, his decision, his team, or his performance, no one has the right to verbally or physically attack someone based on race, sex, sexual orientation, economic standing, etc., but Twitter gives the avenue for such things to happen with its direct line between fans and players.
Another public Twitter incident involved a recent on-court incident between Villanueva and Kevin Garnett that took place during a game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons. According to Villanueva, he was referred to as a cancer patient by Garnett, which was offensive on many levels. Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a disease that caused his hair to fall out and keeps hair from growing on his body, and as a result, it gives the image of someone going through chemotherapy. Garnett denies that he would ever make such comments as he knows the struggles of cancer patients. He claims to have called Villanueva “the cancer of his team and the NBA,” still not a nice thing to say. The incident was highly immature and insensitive on Garnett’s part, but the bigger issue seems to be that Villanueva turned to his Twitter page following the incident claiming, "KG called me a cancer patient, I'm pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he's tossing it like it's a joke."
The saddest part is some in the NBA feel Villanueva was wrong for tweeting about the incident because there is supposedly an unspoken rule that what is said on the court stays on the court. Maybe the problem is that many people (including NBA commentator and former coach Jeff Van Gundy) care more about Villanueva turning to Twitter and not about what was supposedly said. To be fair to Garnett, no one but he and Villanueva know exactly what was said, and it is possible Villanueva doesn’t even know.
For all the positives of Twitter, there are certainly as many negatives concerning its place in sports. For every instance of Twitter being used to form a connection between a player and fans, there seems to be an instance of Twitter being used poorly, by players and fans alike, and this is the entertainment of it all. If Twitter was used positively all the time, would we be so interested in what someone might say next? Of course not.
Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
For a list of NBA players, former players, free agents, and owners on Twitter, check here.