League rules step on tweets by athletes

By JeffGraveline

Social media networks are exploding and athletes are jumping on the bandwagon. The only problem is that their leagues don’t want them to tweet too much.

During the past several months, the National Basketball Association and National Football League have issued new rules to ensure that players, staff and league officials don’t tweet or update when they’re not supposed to.

On Aug. 31, Mark Maske, NFL writer for the Washington Post, cited an NFL release that states, “The growth of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has created important new ways for the NFL and clubs to communicate and connect with fans. The NFL has been at the forefront of the use of new media and will continue to emphasize innovative and appropriate use of these new forms of communication.”

The NBA has quickly followed the NFL’s lead, issuing a memorandum on Sept. 30.

ESPN basketball writer Marc Stein wrote that the NBA was, “Informing teams through a league memorandum that the use of cell phones, PDAs and other electronic communications devices—and thus accessing Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites—is now prohibited during games for players, coaches and other team personnel involved in the game.”

“During games” is defined by the NBA as 45 minutes before tipoff and until the end of media access mandated by the league.

“My first thought was, ‘What took them so long?’ If anything, especially when it comes to the NBA,” said Slam Magazine online writer Marcel Mutoni. “It’s basically more or less telling the players, ‘Don’t be stupid.’ Whatever you say on Twitter or Facebook could and would be used against you.’”

The new rules set in place by the NFL limit how and when personnel can use social media.

Anyone under contract with the NFL, be that a team or a league official, now cannot post on their accounts, “during specific time periods before and after games … up to 90 minutes before kickoff and after the game following media interviews,” according to the press release.

“[The new rule] is a little fuzzy, for when that is. For different guys, [it is] when they’re done talking to the traditional media,” Maske said. “That’s the only time it’s really banned, it’s not prohibited by the league. There is that one caveat though, that it’s subject to approval by the team.”

The limitations on tweets and status updates comes on the heels of several NFL teams fining or benching players for posting information that was deemed detrimental or derogatory to the team.

Among those players fined or benched by teams or the NFL are wide receivers Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets’ David Clowney and San Diego Chargers’ defensive back Antonio Cromartie.

“I think it’s more monitoring what was said [by the players] and sanctioning what was said,” Maske said.

The NBA has had its own series of missteps in the social networking field with Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley tweeting a picture of his new tattoo, with a suspicious baggie, thought to be drugs, in the bottom right corner of the picture.

There was also Charlie Villanueva, a Milwaukee Bucks player, who tweeted during halftime of a regular season game last year, as his coach told the team during halftime about adjustments according to ESPN.

“The guys who tweet at halftime, to me, or during a game—their heads aren’t in the game,” said Howard Schlossberg, associate professor of Journalism at Columbia. “I’m sorry, they’re not. During a game—are you crazy?”

The advent of social networks has allowed athletes to reach their fans on a more personal level by sharing their thoughts and feelings with them. Athletes have broken news using their social networking sites before the media can, as in the case of Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Love Tweeted about the firing of former Timberwolves head coach Kevin McHale a day before Minnesota released a statement about the firing, according to Sports Illustrated. The circumvention of the media isn’t the reason the NBA is imposing the new rules, according to Mutoni.

“I don’t think that David Stern or his lieutenants really care if it’s a player that breaks a story or a writer for the New York Times, that’s not really David Stern’s concern,” Mutoni said.

The new rules are already in place in both the NFL and NBA. The social networking craze may be hitting a high note in the public, but for professional athletes, Tweets and status updates may soon be a thing of the past.