Social media and professional sports have long been on a collision course.
As a huge fan of basketball, I was very interested in Monday’s news that, on the eve of most teams’ training camps, the NBA will begin enforcing a social media policy. Not to say that the move was unexpected, of course; Twitter has been particularly popular amongst some of the league’s premier players for quite some time now, including Charlie Villanueva (who caused a media uproar when he tweeted during halftime at a game last season), Ron Artest, and most notably Shaquille O’Neal, who boasts over 2 million followers.
The policy, yet to be announced in detail, is expected to forbid usage that might prove detrimental to the image of the NBA, its teams, or any of their assets (so no more in-game tweeting or badmouthing referees). Teams will also be encouraged to enforce their own guidelines. This is understandable and probably necessary — but are they taking it too far?
As a whole, the league, its teams, and its players have adopted Twitter relatively quickly, and it has proven thus far to be a positive experience for everyone involved. Most players, owners, and league affiliates have used social media, particularly Twitter, in a non-threatening, engaging manner. What strikes me is that the league is seemingly erring on the side of overly restrictive standards in an effort to take precautions against future violations. Social networking, Twitter in particular, is a medium whose biggest asset is free expression and unabated communication. Attempts to regulate something that in its nature encourages transparency might alter the experience for its NBA users and their followers. Here are three scenarios that might occur as a result of the newly-sanctioned policy:
A) Adapt: Players, fully aware that they’re now being monitored, will Tweet with a responsible air of consciousness, and monitor their updates more carefully. For certain players with more… well… eccentric Tweets like Ron Artest, whom Complex Magazine refers to as the “Twitter King”, this might cause dismay amongst fans.
B) Rebel/Challenge: A select few players might lash out and challenge the policy, not because of its harshness (or lack thereof), but because some might deem social networking as a tool for personal expression and communication that shouldn’t be regulated, or monitored by the Association.
C) Tweet Decline: In this worst-case-yet-highly-unlikely scenario, players might become apathetic and lose interest in tweeting altogether in lieu of being monitored by a governing third-party, and simply Tweet less frequently with the sentiment of “it’s not that serious”. (Hopefully this doesn’t occur)
Some of these might occur, some might not, but the truth remains that athletes are an integral part of both Twitter and the league’s success, no matter how politically incorrect some of their dialogue is. Social networking is a golden opportunity to bring fans inside the game and closer to the athletes. Let’s hope that the league’s restrictions don’t kill the desire of our favorite stars to engage with their fans.