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Social media makes sports notes news

This week we’ve seen two sports stories that may have remained personal conversations explode into national news stories.

The most recent was a conundrum caused by the Green Bay Packers which told players on Injured Reserve that they wouldn’t appear in the team’s Super Bowl team photo because it would be shot before their arrival, days after active members landed in Dallas, site of Super Bowl XLV. The other is Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler who was replaced early in the second half of the NFC Championship game…or was he?

There are two issues at play with both of these cases: 1) team management decisions put their respective clubs in the positions of controversy and 2) social media, specifically, Twitter, drove each story.

The Packers’ picture and Bears’ QB shuffle became stories because people in decision-making positions within each organization made poor choices. The Packers didn’t consider that their 15 players on IR, several which helped lead the team to its successful season, were instrumental enough to the organization today, that they belonged in a photo that commemorates National Football League’s most prized event. In Chicago’s case, Cutler was pulled for the game for an undisclosed, maybe a knee ailment. While rumors circulated social media about why he was no longer playing, Bears PR released nothing to media about why he was out. Speculation led to acerbic tweets and other social media posts about Cutler’s heart and desire in the biggest game of his life. After all, he didn’t look hurt. How bad could it be? We didn’t know, because the Bears told no one about his condition. All we knew as observers was that he was out of the game walking the sideline, saying little if anything to any of his teammates. Was he really hurt? Was he detached and unsupportive of his team? From fans to former players, dozens of people had their say. (To make matters worse, he was allegedly spotted walking stairs to the second floor of a restaurant after the game — no limp, no crutches.)

Each of these stories erupted because of the speed and reach of social media. When Bears’ PR didn’t specify a reason for Cutler’s absence in the game, his past reputation of being standoffish and distant took front-and-center as people took to Twitter to speculate why he wasn’t playing. In the Packers’ case, tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett shared their displeasure on their Twitter pages. Media pounced, fans piled on and stories took on the heat of five-alarm fires.  (The Packers changed their photo plans and will now include IR players in a rescheduled photo session, while Cutler’s story still has hot spots.)

What may have been innocuous days-in-the-lives of NFL teams and players became topics of media and water cooler discussion because of the instant effects of social media. It shows us again, the ramifications of a media tool if it’s not used knowledgeably and productively. It’s much like a misguided quote to a reporter but LOTS faster.

As I write, the first “controversy” over the pending NFL labor situation is now emerging in an erased tweet by Matt Hasselbeck directed toward Antonio Cromartie. With that in mind, it’s in the league’s and Player’s Association’s best interests to reinforce the rules of social media and its consequences when its used without thought. Once words are out there, even if you delete the post, the words live on somewhere on the Internet.

When you write, review your words, and be sure your message is what you intend, then hit SEND. Image management suggests Cutler should have gone directly home after he left Soldier Field instead of walking up steps on a supposedly gimpy knee. Owners and players can’t cry foul on a peer then say your organizations are united. Today, you are what you write, if not what you say and how you dress. Have fun with social media; inform us and entertain us, but use it responsibly.

Do you have other examples of recent events that grew bigger than life because of social media’s influence? Please share and I’ll share with my audience.

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