“You know, it’s funny - I like it. I like it because it gives me the opportunity to reach out to thousands of people at one time. It gives me a chance to get my story across when something goes wrong…It’s big for me and I’m taking it a step further. I have my own application coming out where people will be able to interact and follow me. You know more than through just the keyboard and reading my messages - you’ll actually be able to follow me and when the season starts, it’s going to get even worse. I’m going to really make it fun. I’m using Twitter during games, during halftime, after the games. I’m going to be taking it to the next level.” - Chad OchoCinco, WR, Cincinnati Bengals on KGOW Radio in Houston
Over the past few months, maybe as sports have died down, I've been noticing Twitter plastered on everything. CNN and MSNBC, my local newspaper, ESPN, everything. At first, it really irritated me. Maybe I, like others, didn't fully understand the technology and it's usefulness, but why would someone care whether you are eating soup or doing laundry or driving to pick up the kids? And what person feels it's really necessary to constantly 'tweet' this information? (Click here for a quick rundown on the basics of Twitter)
Before writing this tech-trend off completely, I decided to sign up for an account and give it a chance to see if there was any real sports-related value to gain from what seems to be an inevitable convergence of athletics and social networking. While following the beginning of NHL Free Agency on July 1st, I was informed (via Twitter of course) that after signing with Minnesota Wild, Martin Havlat wasn't too thrilled with how his contract negotiations went with his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks:
"Excited to be in Minny where I was welcomed and appreciated by management. The real story about what happened in Chicago to come out.Keep in mind, this quote was tweeted (I'm not even sure I'm using the correct verbage?) by Havlat within 20 minutes of signing with the Wild. Before the days of Twitter, Havlat would have had time to cool down and even talk with his agent prior to speaking with the media in an organized, and virtually censored, press conference. An outspoken player like Chad OchoCinco may have uttered the same frustrated words in his press conference, but for a notoriously classy team-player such as Havlat, Twitter allowed some fans to hear how he really felt.
There's something to be said for loyalty and honor."
While most athletes have yet to sign up for Twitter accounts, Havlat can thank his agent Allan Walsh for encouraging him to express his feelings to the sports world in 140 characters or less. "What I've done is approached all of my clients to say, 'I'm on Twitter, and this is the kind of stuff I'm putting up on there. I am going to use your name when something merits it, but I'll never divulge confidential information and I'll never put anything up there that I feel shouldn't be up there.' And not one player has said they have an issue with it," said Walsh.
In a sport like hockey, using cutting-edge technology to market players to the world makes sense for a number of reasons. NHL players have always been under-marketed in what is essentially a niche sport and aside from local media coverage, fans rarely get a glimpse into players' lives off the ice. Twitter allows these athletes to develop an image and even directly interact with fans in real-time. However, many potential problems exist as Twitter becomes more popular.
This past March, Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva felt it was necessary to update his Twitter followers at halftime:
"In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up."One has to admire his efficient choice to save 2 characters by replacing 'the' with 'da' but what in that message really prompted him to sneak his cellphone out in the locker room? Was this just the electronic version of a guarantee by an athlete? Bucks Coach Scott Skiles wasn't too impressed either. "My personal opinion is, it doesn't have any place in the locker room," Skiles said. "The locker room's a private place for the players, a sanctuary for the players. But once you walk out of the locker room or whatever, I'm not into getting into guys' personal lives."
Where will the line be drawn? How long will it take for an athlete to tweet himself or herself into hot water by revealing classified team information? Last week, a soccer player for the Houston Dynamo of the MLS was one of the first athletes to be punished for crossing that line. While watching his team lose a match against the Seattle Sounders on TV, Brian Ching immediately tweeted:
“Ref in Seattle just cheated the dynamo. What a joke. Not even close. Ref is a cheat.”Ching was fined $500 for what was deemed a critical comment of an MLS official, even though Ching was not even at the match, let alone participating in the event. As with any new technology, the rules and boundaries are blurry at best, but we also live in a world where there is extreme competition between members of the media to break the big story first. Traditional daily print media has been overtaken by blogs and websites that update multiple times each day. Twitter takes those rapid updates and almost puts it into real-time. As you might expect, the faster this information comes out, the less credibility it tends to have. In the future, rumors will fly rampant as journalistic standards are thrown out the window, but in this case I am beginning to think the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
Fans interacting directly with athletes. Up-to-the-second updates on trades and news at your fingertips. The internet changed journalism, and now Twitter has taken online journalism to an entirely new level. Whether that new level is progress or not remains to be seen.