The Football Girl: Memo to NFL Players: Keep on Tweetin’

Back in August 2009, before he made news with his stellar procreation abilities, then Chargers CB Antonio Cromartie was fined $2500 for the following Tweet:  “Man we have 2 have the most nasty food of any team. Damn can we upgrade 4 str8 years the same ish maybe that’s y we can’t we the SB we need.”

At that point, Twitter was a relatively new tool for NFL players and Cromartie’s fine suggested that players might have to start using this social media tool more as a promotional vehicle than a genuine avenue for connecting with the fans.

Of course that didn’t happen.  Follow anyone from the omnipresent Chad Ochocinco to the recently controversial Rashard Mendenhall, and join in the off the field “sport” that generates just about as much news as any on-the-field escapades.  Twitter is so popular among players that finding one (not named Peyton Manning or Tom Brady) without an account is like finding well, a certain recently-deceased tyrant hiding in a remote Pakistani cave.

But after Mendenhall’s tweets, particularly this one regarding 9-11 — “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style” — many fans and media think NFL players on Twitter need to be reined in immediately.  I don’t.

Release the birdies

Judging by some especially strong personalities among the athlete Twitter regulars, the social media giant is akin to being let out of a small closet.  The NFL is pretty much as militant as it gets (well, excluding the military), with players dressing uniformly and being fined for silly violations such as their socks being an inch higher than the league mandates. For many non-quarterbacks or skill position superstars, they are viewed by fans as caged animals, often anonymous under a helmet, simply there to satisfy our intersecting desires for gambling and violence.  In most cases, their “public personas” are controlled by a team consisting of at least an agent, marketer and publicist. For some players this is fine; they just aim to play the game and get a little publicity once in a blue moon.  But for others, a majority of players in fact, Twitter is an escape. It’s a way to say “Hello world, I’m not just a sack machine; I’m a real person who’s funny and has opinions and likes interaction.” That organic interaction with fans is what makes Twitter so special.  You’ll never get the same interplay at an autograph signing or corporate sponsor event.

Step aside, posers

Still, there are a few players (and their handlers) who see Twitter solely as a ripe opportunity for self-promotional.  Some even think they can get away with a ghost-tweeter.  Not so, says Erit Yellen, a sports public relations and communications executive who has called numerous NFL players, including Shawne Merriman, among her clients.

“It has to be sincere,” Yellen warns, “The fans will pick up if someone else is tweeting for them because it’s not their unique original voice. And if there’s too much promotion going on, it will turn fans away.”

While Mendenhall has indeed turned away many fans, as well as his deal with Champion, his misstep this week most accurately demonstrated the true beauty of Twitter — the rawness factor. If you want your athletes unfiltered there’s no better avenue than Twitter.

Athletes have brains, too

A few media members simply refuse to follow NFL players on Twitter, acting as if it would immediately reduce their brain cell count.  But as someone who follows every single one, this is simply an ignorant view.  As evidenced on yesterday’s Outside the Lines, there is a plethora of legitimate smarty-pants among the NFL brethren. (For the record, insightful Tweeters, Chris Harris, Jay Feely, and Kirk Morrison were all guests).

Players have opinions on subjects ranging from hard news to indy films.  Sure you have the guys that simply Tweet “good morning” or disclose their breakfast choices, but you also have guys that are poets, pottery makers, musicians, read books, play chess, etc.  And, of course, they often have the most enlightening opinions when it comes to what happens between those goal posts on Sunday afternoons.  This is precisely why we have a Tweets of the Day section that is 100% dedicated to NFL players.

Robert Bailey, President of KCB Sports Marketing, the marketing arm of Rosenhaus sports predicts Twitter will continue to be outlet for hearing an athlete’s true voice.  While he says a “media consultant role may become more visible,” he doesn’t see a specialty “social media consultant” profession gaining steam any time soon.

This is great news for the fans to continue to have accessibility to their favorite players in ways never before seen, and for the media to continue to report on stories that come from a player’s top of mind. (Recent example: Reggie Bush tweeting “It’s been fun, New Orleans” just minutes after the Saints drafted RB Mark Ingram last week.)

But if you still find the human side of players unappealing, you have a choice.  Don’t want to know about Darnell Dockett’s odd obsession with Gabourey Sidibe, star of the film, “Precious?”  Find Jay Feely’s right-leaning political views uncomfortable?  Don’t want to hear Maurice Jones-Drew opine on the severity of Jay Cutler’s NFC Championship injury?

The unfollow button is always there.