NFL Players' Use of Social Media Is a Cause of Concern for Teams

Jed Hughes@JedhugheskfCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2013

Richard Sherman did the talking on and off the field in the Seahawks 24-23 win over the Patriots in Week 6
Richard Sherman did the talking on and off the field in the Seahawks 24-23 win over the Patriots in Week 6Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Social media has become a vehicle by which almost every high-profile athlete communicates today.  Just like the rest of us, a celebrity can voice his or her opinion.  However, within minutes, those thoughts can be heard by millions worldwide.  This is not always such a good thing for pro athletes who talk and tweet first and think about the consequences later.

For instance, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman told ESPN First Take's Skip Bayless, "I'm better at life than you" and called the controversial host a slur of insults during a live TV interview.  Instead of promoting his leadership role with the Seahawks and community service, Sherman opted to mix it up with Bayless.  The interview, which had a limited daytime audience, quickly went viral with over a million views on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Previously, Sherman drew heat from his posts after he criticized Patriots fans and then continued the trash talk from the field onto Twitter.  While some people might view these tweets were harmless, the league and franchises would agree this is not an image they want to promote.

Although the NFL’s social media policy is not rigid, it may change as players continue to make their private thoughts public.  For instance, Cleveland Browns linebacker Tank Carder was not punished for directing an anti-gay response at a fan via Twitter, though similar expressions have not been tolerated in other leagues. 

The Knicks' Amare Stoudemire was fined $50,000 by the NBA for an anti-gay tweet, while Kobe Bryant was fined double for a similar remark to a referee during a game.  Since the incident, Bryant has chosen a different path and has even corrected a fan on Twitter who used a similar remark.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall was criticized for his comments on Twitter about Osama bin Laden following the al Qaeda leader's death and for supporting Adrian Peterson’s comparison of the NFL with the slave trade. 

Tiring of social media controversy, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster recently indicated that he planned to shut down his Twitter account, which has over 350,000 followers. 

Linebacker Manti T'eo's use of social media has been well documented.  The Heisman Trophy finalist didn't use social media to criticize anyone, however his tweets about his relationship with a girlfriend whom he never actually met raised danger flags for many NFL teams.  T'eo has subsequently deactivated his Twitter account.

The NFL Players Association has recognized the importance of training top draft picks on social media etiquette.  Throughout the Collegiate Bowl, a week-long event hosted by the NFLPA in late January, the union have made it a priority to educate top prospects on the dangers of tweeting their minds.

Now more than ever, athletes and professionals must be careful about the messages they communicate on social media.  In the age of celebrity obsession and 24/7 media, any sensitive issue can go viral in a matter of minutes.  It would be wise for athletes to engage in posting cautiously.  Athletes are professionals and, are considered role models—whether they like it or not. 

They should set a positive example.

Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.


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