Character Flaw: How the Twitter Obsession Will Ruin Sports if We Aren't Careful

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer ISeptember 10, 2009

Phil Simms earned major points from me when he pointed out how sick he already was of Twitter on Showtime's "Inside the NFL."

Bill Cowher retorted that the social-networking phenomenon is harmless.

The story about Shawne Merriman and Tila Tequila trading accusations via tweets would suggest the former Pittsburgh Steeler coach isn't totally correct. After all, giving emotionally unstable laymen easy access to the public record whilst in the middle of a legal dispute could wreak utter havoc on either side's case. Regardless, Cowher is basically right on the money—for the most part, Twitter is an innocuous (and mindless) nothing.

But so was Hanson. And the Backstreet Boys.

Doesn't change the fact that I wanted to shove white-hot, diamond-edged drill bits into my ear drums just to spare myself the agony of "Mmmm Bop" or any of the other ungodly boy band songs.

Coincidentally, that's about where I am with Twitter.

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Before I bury the newest fad, let me say this—there are some very legitimate uses for it.

My little sister's fiance is a heavy-hitter in new media sales and advertising. He pointed out that Twitter can very much be conceptualized as the next generation newsstand. It is a place where news and information gets disseminated, but it has the additional features of being accessible to almost anyone and having the information pass through personal filters.

He's right—instead of a place on the street corner that offers the New York Times, Newsweek, and Vanity Fair, you've got a Web page where you can find all of that information in addition to less mainstream offerings. As a bonus, it's been vetted first by sources you choose.

Consequently, the blossoming network has some very tangible and important merit to society as a means of sending and receiving information for individuals who would otherwise have no such means.

We all saw this during the Iranian election snafu.

On a more trivial level, it allows writers like me to trumpet our work to the masses (again, note the optimism). So you see it can give the oppressed and rejected a voice.

Or it can help the Middle East move forward...

Sadly, the coin must now be turned over.

As with any innovation, it can go horribly awry in the wrong hands. When the primary driver of an innovation's popularity is its pseudo-universal availability, well, it ends up in a lot of wrong hands.

The National Football League has already seen the writing on the wall and taken action to stop the infestation in its tracks. Of course, judging from this tidbit and Chad Johnson's appearance in a Twitter segment during "Inside the NFL," Roger Goodell and company may be too late.

Twitter seems to have a foothold in the League, and that's really bad news for the NFL.

Consider the virulent lack of discretion and proliferation of poor judgment currently gorging themselves on professional sports (with pro football arguably leading the charge). Now consider that Twitter gives these athletes a new outlet for instantaneous publicity.

Allen Iverson's already found it—he used the service to let everyone know God chose the Memphis Grizzlies as his next team.

Nate Robinson's got it down, too—he used his thumbs to announce he'd been pulled over for the tint on his windows. Turns out Nate the Not-So Great had actually been driving with a suspended license. Oops.

Who doubts this is merely the beginning?

You could see it in Chad Johnson's eyes and hear it in his voice when the eye-candy du jour from Showtime was interviewing him about his Twitter habits. When she cooed that he was getting so many messages per minute, you could almost watch Johnson's ego inflate.

Which is the real root of the Twitter problem for some pro athletes.

The socially bankrupt use for the sensation is as a popularity barometer—whoever dies with the most followers wins.

Every new recipient of Johnson's tweets is another set of eyeballs watching his every move, a fresh salve for his ever-worsening insecurity. You can't compete with that using fines and reprimands, not when pockets are as deep as the ones involved.

It is attention, more than anything, that guys like Johnson crave, and it is attention, more than anything, that Twitter gives them.

Anything that knocks away a layer of the athlete's privacy has enormous potential for trouble.

Twitter essentially brings the fans and athletes face-to-face.

What could possibly go wrong?


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