To Tweet or not to tweet, that is the question

Van Ram posted a nice little profile on undrafted and outspoken free agent Simoni Lawrence over at TST this morning, featuring a nice burst of attitude and confidence:

I told him [Rams' linebacker coach Paul Ferraro] you get me in and I’ll do the rest and make you proud.

Pretty entertaining stuff, and welcome on a team that has been kicked into near submission over the past three years. And it got me wondering, is there more of this? Does he have a Twitter account? Turns out he did, as of 7 hours ago, but doesn’t now… What the hell?

Slawrence21

Personally, I love the fact that players get on Twitter. It establishes a controllable window for interacting with fans, and keeps them human. (Plus it gives them a public forum to trash talk each other.) Tweeting with players is about as close as we’re going to get as fans to the pre-free agency days of football, when you could drink beer with your team’s stars if you wanted. (Especially if they were named Bobby Layne.) No adult had any illusion about whether these players were perfect – in fact, they seemed a lot like us, only bigger and more talented.

But now players are expected to be PR-polished pictures of perfection at all times. Players now live in a culture of apology, and those that advise them are constantly worried about anything said or done now that might need to be apologized for later. Especially because of evil dickheads on the internet like me.

Oh yes, there’s no doubt that bloggers are spoiling it for the rest of us, by pulling quotes from Twitter and turning them into instant headlines. Isn’t Twitter just supposed to be conversation?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Basic rules of etiquette tell us that anything we put in writing can be much more damning than the mere spoken word. And with tools like Google’s page cache, even items you delete still have a shelf life that you can’t control. And perhaps it’s a culture shock for these sudden millionaires to come out of the relatively small pond of collegiate football and have every utterance pored over by legions of fans, reporters, and edge-seeking fantasy football heads.

Or perhaps it’s not a shock that so many are watching … every player drafted or signed afterwards has been a star on some level of football, or they wouldn’t have gotten to this point. Maybe the shock is that there are now potentially millions of dollars at stake. And not just for you, but for the professional entourage of agents, handlers, and advisors that surround these burgeoning stars like flies at an auction. And for the ever-sensitive PR departments of the 32 NFL franchises, as well as the league itself, ever cautious to protect its PG-rated brand of televised violence.

All this hypersensitivity does, though, is highlight the opportunities we might be missing to simply share the joy of being a fan directly with these players. Two of the newest Rams, Mardy Gilyard (@MardyGilyard) and Fendi Onobun (@Fendi713), have received hundreds of tweets in the past few days from Rams fans, welcoming them and cheering them on before they’ve even played a snap in practice. And they’ve tweeted back the love and appreciation that they feel. Players like Donnie Avery (@donnieavery) who’ve struggled against expectations (their own or ours), who’ve been targeted (like everyone else) by talk radio callers during these seasons of misery, are able to directly soak in the fans’ optimism for a new year. Others like Oshiomogho Atogwe (@ojrams21) or Steven Jackson (@sj39) that used to be more active now face more complicated legal situations — in Jackson’s case, a child support hearing that has turned very publicly nasty once already; in Atogwe’s case, a contentious contract standoff with the Rams that may now be complicated by reports of a new injury — that make their recent radio silence understandable.

Bottom line, of course there are risks to putting yourself out there. But there are also rewards. Come on back, Simoni, the tweeting’s fine.

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