Twitter doubles as the best and worst place on the Internet.
NFL athletes make that pretty obvious.
Twitter lets them provide fans with quick glimpses inside their daily, off-the-field lives. It's an outlet that fosters unprecedented interaction, opening lines of communication that, a few years ago, never existed. It gives players typically hidden beneath pads and inside helmets a chance to reveal their true, unfiltered personalities to a vast, almost limitless audience—if they so choose.
From Baltimore to Denver to New England to New Orleans. We are at the top of the mountain. The journey was incredible. Thank You Baltimore.— Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) February 4, 2013
Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) February 5, 2013
Unfortunately, the precise, foundational aspect of Twitter—unadulterated freedom to share concise thoughts with, essentially, the world—is what makes it such a dangerous place.
Disgruntled fans hiding behind their computer screens can be really "courageous," making vitriolic attacks on players with seemingly no repercussions. Sometimes the impersonal criticism goes much too far.
Also, players don't always think before they tweet. They are, after all, humans like the rest of us. They hammer coaching staffs, divulge too much of their personal lives and fire back at media and fans with profane hostility; remember, there is no "cool off" period on Twitter.
So with the popularity of Twitter growing exponentially, should the NFL do more to police players' Twitter accounts?
The league does have an official policy on Twitter usage. According to a 2009 report by the Associated Press (via NFL.com):
The NFL said Monday it will allow players to use social media networks this season, but not during games. Players, coaches and football operations personnel can use Twitter, Facebook and other social media up to 90 minutes before kickoff, and after the game following traditional media interviews.
During games, no updates will be permitted by the individual himself or anyone representing him on his personal Twitter, Facebook or any other social media account, the league said.
As a league, that's good enough.
The NFL has done everything else to garner "No Fun League" wisecracks from fans and most media members, from fining players for sock colors to placing major limitations on touchdown celebrations.
But the league continues to flourish with more strict rules on the "fun" of the game, ones that curb players' creative license to express themselves on the field.
Perhaps more enforcement on another entertaining feature wouldn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
However, to me, fans' ability to digitally socialize with NFLers helps the draw of the league.
Would we watch if the only time we heard from our favorite players came during press conferences?
But are we more apt to tune in to, or attend, games when we feel somewhat of a "personal" connection with certain players or coaches thanks to Twitter?
We don't even realize it, but our cyber engagement makes our connection to the NFL and its teams and players a little stronger.
Clearly, the NFL is hyper sensitive when it comes to its public perception and image, and it should be; a $9 billion per year business is worth protecting at all costs.
But allowing the players to be themselves—professional, funny or downright idiotic—shouldn't be stopped from a "league" standpoint. If a team, a player's true employer, wants to fine its employees for what it deems "inappropriate" or "detrimental," that's all right.
Remember, the league itself has never fined a player for a tweet as long as it adhered to its time-sensitive policy. Only teams have fined players.
The NFL should let its players send intelligent, thought-provoking, humorous, intriguing and entertaining tweets. It should also allow them to compose dumb, career-harming, unprofessional, controversial and argumentative tweets.
This is America, the proud home of free speech. Those tweets are owned by the one who presses send; they almost always harmlessly amuse, and they certainly keep professional football in the news.