Social media spin Web of odd judgment

Updated: August 5, 2009, 5:42 PM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

Social-media sites have been praised for many things, including instant access to athletes. Them, in their own words, unedited, for as much and as long as they want to talk.

[+] EnlargeDaJuan Summers
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDaJuan Summers is reportedly racing Valerie Luxe to be the first with 4,000 Twitter followers.

There's no denying it's had a significant impact on the way sports is talked about and covered. No longer do we have to wait for Dwight Howard to grant an interview to a media outlet about his offseason; we can see him getting a pedicure as it's happening, and read his blog post about the movie he was asked to act in.

As athletes continue to jump on the bandwagon for more exposure and personal branding, for all the positive vibes it has created, one common thread is emerging: negative attention. Turns out when some athletes (and coaches) are left to their own devices when talking to the public sphere on the Web, when there's no agent or PR person to filter, when it's as easy as a couple of keystrokes on your phone at any hour of the day in any state of mind, bad things can happen.

A year or so ago, when blogs ruled the day, it was tamer. A C.J. Wilson commenting spat with teammates here, a bold Curt Schilling statement on 38 Pitches there.

But Twitter's mass appeal, coupled with the wave of NBA players who have started allowing anyone into their day via video lifecasting, has made these slip-ups much easier. Mini-controversies pop up seemingly every week. Lane Kiffin gets a recruiting violation; Charlie Villanueva gets in trouble for tweeting at halftime; J.R. Smith and Eddy Curry film themselves getting pulled over by police; Brandon Jennings makes questionable comments; Terrell Owens battles with a real estate agent.

This week, the hits keep on coming: On Tuesday, The Denver Post suggested Nuggets forward Smith's tweets might show a gang-related association, while DaJuan Summers, a Pistons rookie, has decided to race for followers not against a fellow teammate or NBA player, but a porn star.

Add all this, which is only a thin slice, to the impostor Twitter accounts, which have led to Tony La Russa filing suit against the company and Davone Bess' agitation, and there's enough fodder here to cause massive headaches.

This is not to say all athletes are behaving in such a manner. Plenty are insightful, funny and give fans tons of access without causing a stir or saying more than they should. And even those who are bringing negative attention upon themselves are sometimes the most authentic and revealing.

As I wrote during the Jennings flap, it's who Brandon Jennings really is; we heard a candid conversation with a friend about how he truly felt about where he got drafted. It's a shame he quickly tried to bury it for being politically incorrect, because it doesn't fit into the acceptable sound-bite bubble.

As the hits keep coming for athletes on Twitter and the like, don't be surprised if teams and leagues set hard and fast rules about just what athletes can tweet about and when.

With NFL training camps in full swing this week, we're already seeing this in action. The Green Bay Packers were told they will be fined if they tweet during a team function. On Tuesday, the San Diego Chargers fined Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for complaining about the poor food at camp. Dolphins nose tackle Jason Ferguson told The New York Times that coach Tony Sparano effectively outlawed Twitter when he met with the team before Sunday's first practice. That's one way to make sure his players aren't doing anything dumb.

As social-media sites continue to mature, the clamps are going to tighten on what athletes are allowed to do with it. And what we may sometimes find is this: Social media might not be such an unfiltered look after all.

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