30 June 2012
There was a time, in recent memory, when the greatest advice a veteran athlete could offer his young teammate was simple: "Don't read the papers." Say a team's on a 4 game skid, or Mr. Moolah Player X hasn't scored a goal for a month (Scott Gomez says hi). It's safe to assume an athlete will find some negative, albeit objective, words in the local sports section. Though it's the job of a sports columnist to be critical of the local teams, the often times prolonged scrutiny can take a toll on the organization, and more importantly -- the players. But, hey. They're big boys, getting paid the even bigger bucks. They can handle it. Moreover, the criticisms are from a single, easily avoided source. So no tears, or spilt milk for that matter; they can deal. Now, let's bring things to the present tense. Imagine the scrutiny is launched from not one, but hundreds or even thousands, of sources. These chirps are targeted directly at an individual athlete, with a strong likelihood they will in fact eventually read it. And to round things out, the objectivity in criticism takes a jarring turn toward downright slander. Yep, you got it. I'm talking about Twitter. With over 250 million tweets a day, an ever growing number of professional athletes are subjected to vile words of anger and hatred from the public.
(Ed Note: More after the Driscoll-Carignan Jump)
How it starts
We've all had those moments; you're watching an Avs game. Returning from commercial break, you're already on edge as you realize the Groove Subaru jingle is ingrained deeply into your brain stem. It's a tight 2-2 contest, late in the game, and out of nowhere Cody McLeod commits a silly boarding penalty. Forty-five seconds into the Kill, Radim Vrbata scores what will become the Game winning goal for Phoenix. Now, not only are you ticked by the "Former-Avs-players-always-
This is a typical scenario we've shared together and individually as Avs fans. Recently, though, Twitter has dramatically altered how such a scenario can play out. Let's rewind to the moment where we're cursing at the TV. Fuming, our faces as red as Cody's lovely locks, we decide to take things a step further in our knee-jerk reaction. Succumbing to our flare of emotion, we pull out our iPhone, or laptop, letting the frustration flow from the finger tips:
"@Avalanche Nice colossally sized Choke-Act! McLeod, you SUCK!!!"
How it ends
Let's examine the Twitter effect when a fan redirects their anger from the local team, and instead targets a player on the opposition. Let's shift from the hypothetical to the actual. On April 25, 2012, Boston and Washington squared off for a suspenseful Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The TD Garden was buzzing in a glorious moment that both the Fans and Players dream of: Game 7, NHL Playoff hockey. Win and you carry the momentum and your Stanley Cup dreams further into the next round. Lose? You know how that goes.
After the Bruins scored late in the 2nd, the two teams entered the final frame, even at 1-1. Tim Thomas faced a flurry of shots from the Caps, stopping all 12 of them. With the suspense reaching critical mass, the 3rd period clock struck zero with the game remained tied. This type of scenario sets up what's arguably the greatest setting in all of Sports. I'm talking about Overtime in Game 7 of a Playoff Hockey game. A moment where a fan's heart rate reaches speeds where "Sudden Death" seems like an understatement. A moment where the next goal literally changes history. A moment that will never, ever be forgotten by the fans and athletes. Win, or Lose. A moment where, in the mere fraction of a second, a kid from Canada sees his dream become a reality. The puck travels sharply from the end of his stick and drills deep into the back of the net. A moment that transcends sports entirely; where one can witness what the purest form of joy looks like on a human being's face. Such a moment belonged to Capitals forward, Joel Ward.
Now imagine how fiercely that moment comes crashing down, and the overwhelming sensation of tremendous happiness is poisoned when Ward went home to read things like this in his Twitter mentions:
"i cant believe the series winner was scored by a F****** N*****"
“The N***** scores again we riot #JoelWard”
“The fact that a n***** got the goal makes it ten times worse #gobacktoafrica”
Go ahead. Let that soak in. It's awful isn't it?
As the popularity of services like Twitter grows, we face an equally rapid growth in a new type of social media user. People who gain an artificial sense of power and security; they gain a disillusioned sense that their actions have no consequence and the normal contracts of society dissolve into a digital haze. Standing behind a cloud of anonymity, these fans say things, virtually, that one can only hope they would never say or even think of in reality. Even worse, the hate fueled words are sent directly to another human being.
In this day and age, the long standing advice extends far beyond "Avoiding the Papers." As a professional athlete, it's time to avoid Twitter.