Twitter has revolutionised the social media landscape, bridging the gap between celebrities and the masses. The effect has spread to sport, where the vast chasm between players and fans is narrowing as a result. But is this really beneficial?
It seems as though a week can’t pass without another story of a famous sportsperson treading on a big Twitter-shaped banana skin and landing in a pile of headline-shaped trouble. Sporting fame and Twitter have become ingredients in a potent cocktail that is increasingly leaving a throbbing media hangover for many sports stars. The complete list of slip-ups and scandals would scarcely fit in the whole of this magazine let alone this page! But there are a couple I think are worth a mention…
Ashley Cole recently called the FA a ‘bunch of tw*ts’ following their verdict on the John Terry racism case. Frederico Macheda and other footballers were fined by the FA for Tweeting homophobic comments. Who remembers when Lewis Hamilton got put on the naughty step for Tweeting his team’s telemetry sheets following qualifying at the Belgian GP? Then there was the time that cricketer Tim Bresnan verbally abused a follower for tweeting a picture of him edited to make him look fat. Oh and let’s not forget Joey Barton, whose list of controversial outbursts on Twitter would dwarf an Argos catalogue.
Giving a bunch of athletes the ability to give uncensored, unlimited 140 character press releases is a PR minefield, yet people act surprised when it throws the door open to the winds of controversy. It does raise some pressing questions however. Does Twitter encourage, or simply provide a magnifying glass to expose imperfections in sports stars who would otherwise appear to be model professionals? Does Twitter add a spattering of intrigue and personality to an increasingly sterile sporting world, or as purists might argue, distract from the true substance of sports that fans fell in love with in the first place?
The ever expanding universe of celebrity has left an addiction to personality. Athletes such as Arsenal’s Emmanuel Frimpong, Rio Ferdinand, Joey Barton and countless other sports stars, have used Twitter as a tool to feed their personal brands to hoards of hungry followers. But there is a danger that sportsmen and women will be chewed up and spat out, just look at poor Darron Gibson (then of Manchester United) who received such a bludgeoning of abuse in his first hour on Twitter that he closed his account almost immediately.
Sport needs personality to maintain its vigour. Whilst the Gareth Barrys and Steven Gerrards are inevitable and necessary, the Jenson Buttons and the Mario Ballotellis give it that extra tang on the consumer palette. Twitter targets that need with microscopic precision. But when it is used as a means for abuse and deliberate stirring of controversial issues it becomes unstuck.
Though the personalities of tweeting athletes casts them in leading roles on the vast stage provided by Twitter, it is sport that grips us with the most compelling plot-lines Perhaps it would be best if the performance were kept where it’s at its most enthralling: on the track, the court, the field and the pitch.