This story was written by Patrick Smith.
High-profile sports stars enjoy social networking just as much as any young people. But their employers are getting increasingly worried about them spilling too many changing room secrets. Some are beginning to fine players, shut down their Twitter accounts and hoping some stern action will make the problem will go away. But shouldn’t they accept stars’ personal/private messages are here to stay?
—Unsettled Tottenham Hotspur striker Darren Bent was reportedly fined and forced to apologise last week for posting on his (now deleted) Twitterstream that he was “getting seriously pissed off” about not being allowed to move to Sunderland.
—Australian batsman Philip Hughes was given a rollicking by his superiors for telling Twitter followers (before it had been announced) he was left out of the second Ashes Test Match team.
—Young Crystal Palace winger Ashley-Paul Robinson didn’t realise his message to friends about having trials at Fulham would be in the papers soon after he posted it on Facebook (via Guardian.co.uk), causing his manager to conclude “it’s probably better that he looks to further his career elsewhere”.
And the problem is just as, if not more, pronounced in the US…
—Green Bay Packers players were told at pre-season training camp they faced a $1,701 fine if caught tweeting during a team function (vis Greenbaypressgazette.com.
—Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has all but outlawed twittering—during team time at least—according to player Jason Ferguson (via NYtimes.com), because of the potential bad effects of unscheduled media coverage.
—A case in point: the Minnesota Vikings had a scare when quarterback Tavarius Jackson hurt his leg in a drill on Saturday. Teammate Bernard Berrian made things worse by telling Twitter followers he would be out for the season (the tweet has been deleted, it seems) when in fact he was joking and Jackson is only expected to miss a few practice sessions. Berrian then set about telling followers the offending Tweet “wasn’t meant for fans” and urging them not to take his messages too seriously
But is banning Twitter the right way to handle players’ outbursts? As Chris Nee of the Clickingandscreaming.com blog puts it, players are entitled to a life outside the game. But Bent’s urging of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to “stop fking around” via a tweet does go too far. Given the space newspapers give over to reporting celebrities’ twitterings thee days, it shows great naivety to think that reporters won’t pick up on the messages.
It’s a question of media control: top UK football clubs are tightly controlled media machines—some are public companies—feeding selected news and information to trusted journalists. And increasingly they want to broadcast news themselves whether online, on TV or through magazines. So players going off-message is last thing Spurs’ or Manchester United’s head of media want to see.
But everyone’s private and personal lives are mixed through social networking: the clubs and just about every other business will have to accept some degree of collateral damage from their stars’ messages. So instead of fining players and deleting their accounts, what about a corporate Twitter policy to keep them in line?
By Patrick Smith