Power of Twitter where one tweet can last forever

It only takes minute to send out a message on a Twitter, but the reaction can be mayhem. Mike Tierney wonders if sports stars realise the power they have.
A brawl between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants prompted radio commentator Tony Bruno to tweet. His tweet sparked a huge debate on immigration and accusations of racism.
A brawl between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants prompted radio commentator Tony Bruno to tweet. His tweet sparked a huge debate on immigration and accusations of racism.

Last Friday, a fastball from the San Francisco pitcher Ramon Ramirez hit the Philadelphia batter Shane Victorino in the back.

The alleged motivation for the drilling, which ignited a melee, was retaliation for the Phillies, ahead 8-2, violating baseball's most moronic unwritten rule: thou shalt not steal a base with a large lead.

Nationally syndicated radio loudmouth Tony Bruno then violated a wise guideline borne out of the impetuousness of sports personalities: think before you tweet.

Bruno tapped out a two-thumbs reaction to followers that excoriated Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager, "for having his illegal alien pitcher hit a guy".

For starters, Ramirez, from the Dominican Republic, is a documented US citizen or was granted a work visa. Either way, he crossed the border legally.

Worse, Bruno plunged into the treacherous waters of politics. His tweet, which poked a stick at the bitterly divisive issue of immigration, was guaranteed to repulse a sizeable demographic.

One of the offended was Bochy. He deemed Bruno's tweet racist.

Fifty years ago, a song released by the peace-loving folk singer Pete Seeger asked: "When will they ever learn?" I am reasonably sure the tune was not about mind-dumping on a smart phone. Still, the musical question applies to the sports people who - to borrow one of Bruno's terms - alienate with their unrestrained tweets.

How appropriate that the first syllable of the cyber-typist technology is twit.

Take Rashard Mendenhall. Please.

The Pittsburgh Steeler touched an ultra-sensitive nerve when he expressed his doubts via Twitter that hijacked planes caused the collapse of the World Trade Center: "I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

On top of relentless criticism, he was dropped by the sports equipment distributor Champion as an endorser.

On the subject of champions, Buffalo's Steve Johnson might have retired the dumb tweet trophy by blaming God for a dropped pass, which perturbed pretty much anyone associated with any religion.

"I praise you 24/7," he vented, presumably with his smart phone aimed upwards, "and this how you do me!!!"

Come on, Steve, everybody knows God is no fan of the Bills. Why else would they be 0-4 in Super Bowls and have managed one winning record this century?

Professional athletes' wallets can take a direct hit from tweets.

Two seasons ago, the then-Chiefs player Larry Johnson not only used a crass slur during a tweet, but he applied it to Todd Haley, Kansas City coach. The team suspended Johnson one game, costing him some US$200,000 (Dh734,600).

When he followed up with a tweet that mocked a fan for making less money, thus qualifying for Twitter rehabilitation, Johnson was waived.

It was not the content of Chad Ochochino's tweet from a Cincinnati pre-season game last summer that nailed him. ("Man Im sick of getting hit like that ...") It was that he tweeted during the exhibition, which broke an NFL rule. The league fined him $25,000.

How did Ochochino think he would get away with it? The former Bengal has 2.5 million followers, most of any active American athlete.

When Antonio Cromartie was a Charger, he complained about the cafeteria fare at San Diego's training camp: "Man we have 2 have the most nasty food of any team."

The club docked him $2,500. No word on how much more Cromartie slipped the cooks not to poison him.

Some tweets might nettle an audience of one, but it is the last person you would want to provoke.

Texas Tech University's Marlon Williams must have buckled his helmet too tightly before he dispatched: "Wondering why I'm still in this meeting room when the head coach cant even be on time to his on [sic] meeting."

His coach forbade the use of Twitter. Others have followed suit, most recently the University of South Carolina's Steve Spurrier after Corey Miller tweeted that his teammate Alshon Jeffery was arrested after a bar fight.

This would be information any team would strive to keep in-house. Making matters worse, it was false, which prompted Jeffery to tweet Miller with, "SMH at you dude." SMH, apparently, is Twitter-talk for "shaking my head."

Spurrier stopped shaking his head long enough to say: "Well, we have some dumb, immature players that put [stuff] on their Twitter and we don't need that. So the best thing to do is just ban it."

The professional leagues have not resorted to such steps, other than prohibiting tweets at games. The NBA policy reportedly was triggered by Charlie Villanueva, then with Milwaukee, informing his devotees from "da locker room" at half-time: "Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up."

Vilanueva has since stepped over to the Detroit Pistons. Notice how these serial Twitterers have moved to other teams?

It is standard procedure for the offender to delete the tweet and lamely apologise. Because damage control is difficult, sports people must realise two things.

Their followers tend to number in the thousands or more. Not in the tens, like the rest of us, whose brain blips can go unnoticed.

And once it has entered the Twitter universe, a tweet cannot be purged entirely.

"You are what you eat," goes the old saying. Nowadays, this also holds true: you are what you tweet.


Published: August 10, 2011 04:00 AM


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