Players trip on tweeting's fine line

Terrell Owens, Marcus Fitzgerald, Nick Barnett and Robert Henson … come on down!

You're all the next contestants on "Football Players Forgetting their Tweets Can Spread Like Wildfire!"

Here's the latest list, which, mind you, all happened Sunday: Buffalo Bills receiver Owens retweeted a knock on Tony Romo. Shortly after he realized what he'd done, (retweeting another's thoughts is viewed as agreeing with, or saying it yourself if you don't add commentary) Owens tweeted he wasn't going to rip anyone on the Cowboys. Except he already had.

Marcus Fitzgerald, brother to Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry and a receiver for the California Redwoods in the United Football League, took to Twitter during the Cardinals game to tell another user "my brother just texted me during halftime pissed off." In that same tweet, he also ripped Kurt Warner, leading many to believe Larry was not happy with Warner. Marcus continued to rip on Warner throughout the game, only adding wood to that fire.

These tweets have since been deleted. Marcus later tweeted he was just frustrated his brother wasn't getting the ball enough. OK then.

Packers linebacker Barnett told everyone to "KISS MY ASS" if they booed him after he celebrated a tackle in the backfield of Cedric Benson in their loss to the Bengals. Not always the wisest decision. He's since quit Twitter, saying he's "an emotional person" and sometimes he forgets that "everything is public."

Last, and perhaps most egregious, Henson, a Redskins rookie linebacker who's yet to see an NFL snap, went after fans on Twitter who booed the team in Washington's victory over St. Louis, calling them "dim wits" and saying they worked "9 to 5 at McDonalds." Yeesh.

He has deleted his account, quit Twitter and apologized.

Phew. All done.

As I've written before, there's been no shortage of controversy on Twitter since athletes flocked to the service earlier this year. So what gives? Do these guys not realize that anything they say on Twitter often carries the same weight as what they'd say to a reporter? With so many of these incidents happening, it's clear that some athletes just don't get it.

But you know what? I'm going to cut them some slack. And here's why: When an athlete is in a press room or locker room, they know to act right. Does this mean they're always going to say the right thing? Of course not. We've seen plenty of locker room and news conference blowups. But in that forum, there's more thought behind it: When several microphones are in an athlete's face in a traditional news conference or locker room setting, athletes think before they speak. It's a formal setting. But Twitter -- though certainly still a public forum -- isn't like that. It's the very definition of informal. It just feels different.

If the press room is athletes' classroom, Twitter is their playground. And in the playground your guard is down, you feel more off-the-record.

Take the Fitzgerald case. He was having a conversation with another Twitter user via UberTwitter, which is a BlackBerry application, when he tweeted about his brother being "pissed off." So, in his mind, he's in the heat of the moment watching his brother, and he's essentially texting a quick line to one person. Texting is the very definition of informal communication. Except when you step back and look at it in a larger context, his conversation with one specific user is out there for the world to see.

For the common folk, social media has done plenty to connect us, but it's also led to the dreaded "overshare" -- saying stuff in a public forum online we'd never say to a stranger (and oftentimes even to friends), even though plenty of strangers will be reading it.

Social media begs us to tell it what we're doing at all hours of the day every day. Sometimes that's just not necessary.

So in the case of athletes, the examples above are their oversharing. This is stuff they'd likely never say in a more formal setting -- especially a guy such as Henson, who likely didn't get one question in the locker room after the game -- but Twitter's informal nature almost tempts them to let it out.

Now, this doesn't absolve these four guys of their transgressions. But it certainly sheds some light on why this stuff continues to happen.

Yet, remember: There's still plenty of utility to the service, enough that not every athlete is going to run away screaming. And not every athlete is having difficulty with the public versus private issue. In fact, the majority have figured it out, for the most part.

Even though it feels different, the main takeaway here is it's not. Athletes need to recognize this, and think before they tweet. Twitter, no matter what you're doing on it, is no different than traditional media.

It is media -- self media.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.