The Importance of Maintaining a Respectable Online Persona
Taking Lessons from Athletes’ Gaffes on Twitter
Although the Constitution affords Americans the right to freely express themselves, regardless of how ridiculous our ideas, thoughts, and opinions may be, what we say often has consequences. That has never been more apparent than today, with social networking sites such as Twitter, that provide a platform from which these views can be catapulted into cyberspace, thereby potentially reaching an incredibly large audience. Prudent use of Twitter can enable an individual to stay connected to friends, it can create a forum for a company to promote its brand, and it can enable celebrities to engage with their fans. However, since the launch of Twitter, a handful of high-profile athletes have found themselves in hot water for their tweets. These incidents provide valuable lessons about the potential dangers of social media for people in virtually any line of work.
Stop Playing the Blame Game
In sports and in business, taking responsibility for one’s own actions is one of the hallmarks of being a team player. In 2009, Houston Dynamo soccer player Brian Ching had his sportsmanship called into question when he tweeted that a referee officiating his team’s game was a “cheat.” Ching wasn’t even playing in the game because he was traveling with the U.S. national team, which critics argued made his comment seem even more like infantile whining. In addition to the bad press that following the incident, Ching was hit with a $500.00 fine.
Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson didn’t blame officials, or even other players on the field, for his team’s loss to Pittsburgh in 2010. No, instead, Johnson blamed the fact that he dropped a game-winning touchdown pass on God. He tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS???? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
The tweets posted by Ching and Johnson made them sound like sore losers, while the blame-infused tweet of WNBA player Cappie Pondexter had her Twitter followers scratching their heads. In 2011, Pondexter, like Johnson, invoked the wrath of God in a controversial tweet. After news broke that a tsunami had ravaged parts of Japan, Pondexter suggested that the Japanese people were to blame for the devastation and that God was punishing them. She wrote, “What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there (sic) own country! Idk (sic) guys he makes no mistakes.” A while later, she added, “u just never knw! They did pearl harbor so you can’t expect anything less (sic).”
Publicly pointing the finger at others doesn’t come across well, and reigns true in the business world. It’s hard for coworkers to consider you a team player if you seem consumed with assigning blame when things go wrong.
Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You
No boss is perfect, but it’s never appropriate to publicly chastise management. However, several prolific athletes have done just that. Back in 2009, San Diego Chargers’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie complained on Twitter about the terrible food served to players at his team’s training camp. The Chargers’ rule prohibiting discussing team issues on social networking sites led to a $2,500.00 fine, and the coaches and owners were reportedly miffed by the public way in which Cromartie addressed the criticism.
Larry Johnson launched a more direct, biting attack against his coach via Twitter when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs. As a result of those remarks, and the Twitter battle that ensued (more on that later), Johnson was ultimately let go.
Leave the Skeletons in the Closet
It’s never a good idea to announce to coworkers, supervisors, or customers (or in the case of athletes, the fans) all your private troubles. Several NFL players have failed to heed that advice and have chosen, instead, to air their dirty laundry. Jabar Gaffney, for example, recently unleashed a tirade via Twitter, full of expletives and unflattering remarks about his wife, his cousin and fellow NFL player, Lito Sheppard. Afterward, Gaffney claimed his account had been hacked, but his previous Twitter transgressions left some observers’ wondering whether he had actually written the tweets and then regretted it afterward.
Houston Texan Kareem Jackson inexplicably announced to the world via Twitter that, while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, he was enjoying an afternoon as a spectator at a cockfighting match. Jackson even provided photographic proof.
Although neither Gaffney nor Jackson engaged in any illegal behavior (yes, cockfighting is legal in the Dominican Republic), their tweets called into question their judgment. While most people in the business world aren’t subject to the heightened level of public scrutiny that the professional athletes described above are, our private lives are exposed more and more as we engage in online social networking. In fact, employers are increasingly checking Facebook profiles and tweets when screening applicants. Therefore, we all have motivation to leave the skeletons in the closet when sharing information online.
Just as it’s always better to stay clear of office gossip, the backlash following several tweets posted by well-known athletes suggests that avoiding controversy is a good idea in the sports world as well. Take Stony Brook University football player Matt Faiella, for example. The NCAA suspended him after he used a racial slur in referring to other student athletes on Twitter. And then there’s Lehigh University athlete Ryan Spadola, who was suspended by the NCAA for re-tweeting Faiella’s racially charged message.
Immediately after Larry Johnson criticized his coach on Twitter in 2009, which as described above eventually led to his release, he engaged in an unfortunate Twitter war of words with one of his followers. In addition to other offensive material included in those tweets, Johnson used a gay slur. Johnson was thereafter the center of a controversy that tarnished his image.
Finally, NFL player Rashard Mendenhall recently ignited a firestorm with his public commentary on the events of 9/11. Following the death of Osama Bin Laden, Mendenhall tweeted, “It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…” He continued, “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”
Controversy surrounding insensitive and provocative statements like these is never good for a career, regardless of whether that career is played out on a field or in an office.
Don’t Alienate Your Audience
Companies go to great lengths to understand their customer or client base to ensure that they satisfy their needs and stay relevant. Professional athletes, who often have lucrative endorsement deals, which rely on public support, should take similar care to appeal to their fans. Unfortunately, several Twitter incidents from the past few years make clear that some athletes have a lot of learning to do in that regard.
One of the surest ways for an athlete to alienate fans is to publicly expose an inflated ego or brag amount his wealth. In 2010, New England Patriot Chad Ochocinco got hit with a $25,000.00 fine for violating an NFL rule against tweeting during games. In his “apology” to the league, Ochocinco downplayed the fine by tweeting that $25,000.00 was the equivalent of about two months of payments on his luxury sports car. Linebacker Robert Henson also boasted about his net worth after feuding via Twitter with a sports fan who had mocked Henson for not getting any playing time in a game. Henson tweeted, “No I didn’t play but I still made more than you in a year and you’d switch spots with me in a second…The question is who are you to say you know what’s best for the team and you work 9 to 5 at Mcdonalds…(sic)” The backlash was fast and furious.
Careless Twitter use by athletes has resulted in consequences ranging from fines and suspensions to embarrassment and irreparable reputation damage. Folks in the business world should take notice. Before you tweet about that scandalous night out or your disdain for a colleague, consider that this information may be better suited for a smaller audience, and keep it clean and respectful while on Twitter.
About the Author:
Senior executive Anita Brady is the President of 123Print.com. They are a leading resource for high quality customizable items like business cards, letterhead and other materials for small businesses and solo practitioners.