Popular AB contributor Chris Yandle, assistant AD for communications at the University of Miami, wrote a great post for our website in May about our collective love/hate relationship with social media.
When the core social media sites launched — Facebook and Twitter — it was all love. People were enamored with this new, fun way to connect with friends and family, but even cooler, they suddenly had direct access to celebrities previously considered untouchable. Athletes would share their professional and personal lives with anyone that "followed" or "liked" them, providing the type of insight unobtainable to the Average Joe as recently as one decade ago.
But as Chris pointed out in his post, that love quickly turned to hate, and Internet trolls slowly began to take over these channels. Instead of cowardly shouting insults at players from 40 rows away, these "fans" could now cowardly shout insults at players using their keyboard. They curse and threaten players, coaches, athletic directors and sports personalities for one simple reason: because they can. There are no repercussions for their words. We saw this in Chicago last December when Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte was beaten by Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb for the touchdown that decided the winner of the NFC North Division. Many angry Bears fans took to Twitter and attacked and threatened Conte, but unfortunately for them, Conte had quit Twitter months earlier due to other attacks. Instead, it was Nashville reporter Chris Conte that was on the receiving end of the vitriol. But this is a trend that we are seeing happen more frequently, athletes withdrawing from social media altogether and putting that iron curtain back up, separating themselves from their fans.
Attacking professional athletes or other adult sports personalities is one thing, but attacking young kids competing on the high school or collegiate levels is another. I have always been sickened by the people who live and die by what a teenage athlete does or doesn't do in a game. These are young kids who are still developing not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally, as well. Today, thanks to social media, they not only have to deal with being hassled by their classmates or the local community, but they have to deal with 40- and 50-year-olds 2,000 miles away berating them because they couldn't get one foot inbounds on that final Hail Mary play.
The negative impact of social media goes both ways. How many times have we seen examples of athletes or coaches in hot water over something they posted online? Classic examples include Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tweeting his disgust for having to go to class since "we ain't come to play SCHOOL." Or former Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall questioning why people were celebrating Osama Bin Laden's death since "we've only heard one side."
Social media can still be that happy place we like to escape to if users would just think before they tweet. Take 30 seconds after you have thought about tweeting something to determine if what you plan on tweeting is good or potentially bad. Use that thing called a brain and exercise good judgment. Stop projecting your own unhappiness onto the players and coaches you cheer for. Just sit back and enjoy social media for what it is: entertainment.
And on that note, I'd like to share one of my favorite athlete tweets of all-time:
"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! I'LL NEVER FORGET THIS EVER!!! THX THO" — Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson to God after dropping a pass in overtime.
As of this writing, God has not replied, favorited or retweeted Johnson's tweet.
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Social Anxiety."