Commentary

Jay Cutler case: Keep on tweeting

The glimpses into athletes' personalities we get from social media is worth the trouble

Updated: January 25, 2011, 8:58 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Amid all this back-and-forth blustering about whether NFL players unfairly unleashed a torrent of Twitter criticism at Jay Cutler, the reason we should be welcoming athletes voicing their opinions on social media was apparent on Tuesday.

Tiger Woods, via Twitter, said arguably the funniest thing he ever has uttered.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Taku Miyamoto/Getty ImagesIf Tiger starts tweeting from the green, think what we'll learn about him!

Tiger invited his Twitter followers to ask whatever they wanted, which, given the headlines Tiger has created the past few years, is a little dangerous.

But instead of answering questions that were easy, tepid and lame, Tiger showed some personality that, frankly, enough of us haven't seen.

@lisap0wer asked Tiger: "What did you think when @davechappelle played you in the Racial Draft skit on Chappelle's Show?"

Tiger tweeted back, "At least I was the #1 pic, back then, fo' shizzle."

I, along with the rest of Twitter nation, LOL'ed.

The impersonation Chappelle did of Tiger on his now-defunct television show is considered epic. The fact that Tiger smoothly dropped a Chappelle reference -- acknowledging that he watched the popular show -- instantly gave thousands of people an indication that lurking beneath all of that golf brilliance is humor many of us can relate to.

This is the value of athletes using Twitter, and other forms of social media. They give athletes an outlet to show who they are. Sometimes, it's fascinating, funny and insightful. And other times, yes, it's disastrous.

And if you can withstand those athletes who use Twitter as a non-stop personal infomercial, Twitter often drops the velvet rope between fans and the athletes they admire.

I can deal with a few social media mishaps, because even when athletes tweet the wrong thing, we still learn something about them and their world.

And what we can take away from the Cutler fallout on Twitter, in which players such as Maurice Jones-Drew, Kirk Morrison, Asante Samuel and Darnell Dockett took shots at the Bears quarterback, is that some of Cutler's peers don't respect him.

You can't tell me that isn't fascinating.

Athletes almost always stick together. I can't think of a single NFL player -- most certainly not a quarterback -- who has ever incited as much disdain from other players as Cutler did for not finishing out the NFC Championship Game because of a knee injury.

Journalists practically beg athletes to be honest. We want them to be provocative, fun and raw. And as soon as they are -- particularly if it's an opinion with which we disagree -- we annihilate them for their original thoughts.

This isn't to say that when athletes say something, it shouldn't be challenged. But instead of telling athletes how irresponsible they were in their quick judgment of Cutler's injury, let's recognize that Cutler's track record as a brat is the genesis of why his toughness was instantly challenged. My guess is that Jones-Drew, Dockett and the others probably didn't say anything about Cutler that hasn't been said privately in locker rooms around the NFL.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesDon't let a few bad tweets about Jay Cutler ruin Twitter for the rest of us.

I'm sure this Cutler controversy was another lesson for those athletes who still haven't realized that an observation or joke on Twitter can instantly become news.

I'm just hoping it doesn't deter them from expressing themselves. I'm tired of corporate athletes with sanitized opinions. Sports thrive on personalities.

I'm not one of those media members who feels threatened because athletes don't necessarily need us to deliver a message any more in this high-tech age.

I'll take LeBron's karma tweet and an inappropriate Michael Beasley photo if it means learning about Chad Ochocinco's heartfelt connection to a fan via Twitter.

I'll take Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes' scathing remarks about the popular show "Basketball Wives" -- which featured his longtime girlfriend in its first season -- if it means learning about all the goofy, fun things that Kurt Warner likes to do with his family. (For what it's worth, Warner also tweeted his support for Cutler, his fellow quarterback.)

Twitter isn't perfect (what form of technology is?) but at least it doesn't always give us such a one-dimensional view of athletes. Troy Polamalu is using Twitter to generate support for U.S. troops. LeBron James posted a picture of his birthday cake, which looks like it cost as much as an upscale condominium.

So if some NFL players took some misguided shots at Cutler, that's fine. It was worth it because, thanks to Twitter, I learned that Tiger prefers Tupac to Notorious B.I.G.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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