Do sports and Twitter mix? That’s the question that the latest Twitter-gate has prompted. Over the weekend, many eyebrows were raised over a tweet generated from Carmelo Anthony’s official Twitter account, @carmeloanthony, offering anyone $5,000 to slap Kat Stacks, an infamous groupie who has built up name recognition primarily through exposing her escapades with rappers, after she began flirting with him via Twitter. Ultimately the exchange, which also involved responses from Anthony’s new bride and former MTV personality LaLa Vazquez, was ruled null and void by Anthony, who declared via Twitter that his account had been hacked.
Whether one believes Anthony or not, it’s clear that he is not all by himself when it comes to Twittter-generated problems. Like most of the country, athletes have also flocked to Twitter and, just like other celebrities, they command significant followings. Whenever anyone brings such a big fan base to the table, there are bound to be problems. In fact, both the NFL and NBA now have Twitter policies and they have enforced them regardless of the circumstances or the messages.
Towards the end of last year, for example, the NBA fined Milwaukee Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings $7,500 for tweeting “Back to 500. Yess!!! “500” means where [sic] doing good. Way to Play Hard Guys.” Although the message, in itself, was positive, the rule is players aren’t allowed to tweet during the game as well as 45 minutes before or after the game. There are no exceptions in the NBA. Both Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler were fined $7,500 each for tweeting updates to their Twitter accounts during a game, even though it’s doubtful either man did the tweeting himself.
The NFL is just as relentless. Football’s “I Need Love” Chad Ochocinco, who appeared on his own VH1 reality show over the summer, was just fined $25,000 for posting during his Bengals pre-season showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. Way more serious is Larry Johnson’s heated rants on Twitter last season following a loss to the San Diego Chargers when he was still with the Kansas City Chiefs. A fan’s response to Johnson’s tweets got personal, with Johnson eventually tweeting a homophobic slur. In addition to being fined $213,000, Johnson lost his job with the Chiefs.
With stakes as high as these and both the NBA and NFL playing such close attention, it’s easy to say that athletes should abandon Twitter because clearly it’s not worth the hassle. Check any business magazine, however, and there’s little debate about how essential social media, particularly Twitter, is in developing a brand. Opinions may vary as to how to cultivate that brand but no one argues whether companies, big and small, should be on Twitter. So why should athletes turn their backs on Twitter and the cultivation of their brand?
So much of what the public knows about athletes is filtered. Most of us only get the soundbites from ESPN. Black athletes, in particular, have rumbled, especially among themselves, that so many of the reporters do not look like them or share a similar cultural background and that sometimes affects the way they and their views are translated to the general public. Twitter, to some extent, can remove those barriers. It just may be that your favorite NFL or NBA player is a selfish jerk. Or, on the flipside, perhaps a player is more thoughtful than he appears on Sportscenter.
Because NFL players wear helmets throughout the game and their sheer numbers make it impossible for most to get any camera time, Twitter, in addition to sports radio and the various chat opportunities many sports shows provide via the Internet, can be especially useful to them. It can help them connect with their fans more directly as well as highlight their interests outside of their occupation.
As a black female athlete with over 1.7 million followers, Serena Williams is definitely stands alone. Few female athletes of today enjoy such visibility and the spotlight has generated some controversy. Not too long ago, Williams took to her Twitter page to complain about a tennis event she helped promote charging her $100 for a ticket. Some folks objected to her using Twitter to voice her views as “tacky,” but still she had a forum to be heard. For less well-known female athletes, Twitter can be a golden opportunity.
Recently New York Liberty player Cappie Pondexter tweeted about her appearance on a sports radio show. The more well-known WNBA player Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks is a frequent tweeter as of late and shares her experiences and expertise about basketball as well as trades messages with her husband, NBA player Shelden Williams, and tweets about their daughter Lailaa, who is just over a year old. Athlete, wife and mother, that’s a stellar combination and there are very few media outlets highlighting that.
Carmelo Anthony and some other athletes might indeed provide too many examples of Twitter gone wrong but the medium and sports can mix. In this branded age, athletes would be remiss to not take advantage of every outlet available to them. The NFL and the NBA wouldn’t monitor Twitter so closely if it wasn’t such a powerful medium.