Social media & athletes: it’s a tricky business

steph curry fb
Image from Stephen Curry’s Facebook page

Social media is a tricky business. Even more so for the world’s greatest athletes, and those who aim to get to that level. It’s a great marketing tool and a way for athletes to connect to their fans, giving them somewhat of an inside look into their favorite players’ thoughts and doings. But Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the likes have a negative side, and it can end careers, some before they even begin.
Some of the world’s greatest athletes have consciously decided to step away from social media for some reason or another. Let’s face it, the fans can be cruel, they can be the worst of the worst. Bleacher Report details some of the harassment NFL players received online from displeased fans, wishing harm on their families or sending death threats. So it’s no wonder athletes either pull away or find themselves in the midst of an unnecessary Twitter exchange.
Kevin Durant had taken himself out of the social media world less than a year ago, but recently came back with a YouTube channel to give fans an inside look at his life, in a way he can control. LeBron James continued with his tradition of blacking out his social media accounts during the playoffs, as he calls it “zero dark thirty-23,” so he is not subjected to the ridicule of fans or haters as he tries to focus on winning another ring.

Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry also revealed that he steps away from social media as soon as the postseason begins. Curry deletes all social media applications from his personal fphone, and told ESPN that “When you’re really trying to zone in and keep your focus, you don’t want to have any unnecessary distractions during this point of the season. We have goals to accomplish, and you want to make sure you’re giving your all.”
Curry says he still tweets before games, but he found a way of doing so without logging into his accounts, so he doesn’t get sucked into the buzz, some of which could be negative.
But that’s just one side of it, the interaction with fans and constant ridicule, knowing you’re always under the microscope and in a very, very public way for everyone to see everyone’s thoughts, so long as your hashtag, twitter handle or name are involved.
As for the fans posting, some of the tweets or messages are ones that you’ll never wish upon anyone, but these people largely remain anonymous, who are they in the grander scheme of things? Unfortunately for athletes, everything they tweet has a consequences.
Take the Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. as an example. Years ago Nance tweeted about Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case, saying “Gee I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time,” adding a hashtag at the end that I will not repeat. In 2015, the Lakers drafted him, and the tweet he posted surfaced within moments of his name being announced. Everything worked out for Nance, who apologized to Kobe and is still part of the franchise. But if the tweet had resurfaced 24 hours earlier, would his life have been different?

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Image from Larry Nance Jr.’s Twitter page

And what about Johnny Football. Manziel has been all over social media, and not in a flattering way. In some instances he’s posted the pictures or messages himself, but others have also caught the former college star turned NFL-burnout in some questionable moments. Some may argue his social media game partially helped lead to the Cleveland Browns’ eventually waiving the quarterback.
Point is, these posts never really go away. In this day and age, everything we do and say online will always be there, and someone will always find it. Which is why the Houston Texans’ JJ Watt is trying to teach high school athletes to think before they tweet.
Watt advised high school student athletes to read every tweet “95 times before sending it.”
Look at every Instagram post about 95 times before you send it. A reputation takes years and years and years to build, and it takes one press of a button to ruin. So don’t let that happen to you. Just be very smart about it,” Watt told MaxPreps during an interview.
jj watt facebook page
Image from JJ Watt’s Facebook page

Social media is capable of both building and destroying entire careers. It’s a double edged sword for many athletes – a very thin line between interaction and distraction. While JJ Watt’s initiative is an important one, and many athletes would probably listen to him rather than a teacher, schools and athletic programs (both high school and college level) should encourage social media management lessons or courses for their student-athletes. If your business is training them for the “real world” and the pros, then go for it all the way, train them for the realities of today’s world, all of them.
We also cannot ignore the other big issue with social media: it has brought out the worst in fans. The fans need a wake up call. Obviously most fans aren’t calling for harm to players or their families, and aren’t out to distract the players. But users who call out athletes so publicly and so violently have to take responsibility for what they say and what effect their words may have. With so many people on social media it is likely impossible to fight off trolls online, who will do and say as they please no matter what. But as fans, social media is also in our hands, or more literally at our fingertips, and we need to help control its effects.

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