Under The Bleachers: The Inevitable Messy Collision Of Sports And Social Media

Above: TSN has apologized to Toronto Maple Leafs players Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and Phaneuf’s wife Elisha Cuthbert after a tweet appeared on TSN during Monday’s live NHL trade deadline coverage
Above: TSN has apologized to Toronto Maple Leafs players Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and Phaneuf’s wife Elisha Cuthbert after a tweet appeared on TSN during Monday’s live NHL trade deadline coverage

Twitter has become ubitquitous, even during sports broadcasts.

You rarely see a graphic about a player, coach or personality that doesn’t include their Twitter name, while fans use the social media platform as a companion to broadcasts, discussing the action in real-time with legions of other fans, critics and observers doing the same.

The WWE has become so Twitter-centric that every episode of Monday Night Raw is basically a commercial for the platform and the company’s online network – now available in Canada! The announcers talk about what’s trending more than what’s happening inside the squared circle.

Tickers filled with comments and questions from fans on Twitter are regularly featured on broadcasts as well, and this where the inevitable messy collision between trying to be in touch with the times, shoddy quality control (for lack of a better phrase) and the crappiness of people on Twitter took place.

Monday during TSN’s marathon NHL Trade Deadline show, “Canada’s Sports Leader” had a Twitter ticker running along the bottom of it’s screen airing tweets sent using the #TradeCentre hashtag. That’s when a tweet showed up that featured an inappropriate reason for the Toronto Maple Leafs keeping forward Joffrey Lupul in town that involved team captain Dion Phaneuf and his wife, Elisha Cuthbert.

Lupul caught the tweet and replied, calling TSN “a poor man’s TMZ” and the network has been in damage control mode since being made aware of the mistake, dropping a three-tweet apology and having TradeCentre host James Duthie apologize on-air as well. That apparently wasn’t enough for Lupul, Phaneuf and Cuthbert, however, as the triumvirate have threaten the network (and the guy that sent the tweet) with a lawsuit.

Combine that with the horrifying amount of vile garbage that was sent to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling after he congratulated his daughter on earning a softball scholarship last week and the ugly underbelly of the social media platform becomes exposed.

Twitter is both tremendously useful – an outstanding tool for connecting with your audience and interacting with athletes and fans – and quite possibly the worst thing ever, because it has given people this idea that they can say whatever they want about whoever they want without penalty.

Schilling has gone on the offensive, outing several of the people who replied to his tweet and vowing to pursue all legal options against them. As noted earlier, Lupul, Phaneuf and Cuthbert are investigating doing the same. This shouldn’t be the new reality, but the advent of social media and its explosion into society has taken running your mouth about a player you dislike or saying something inappropriate in the privacy of your own home and turned it into a public activity that millions of people participate in every day.

And media feeds into it with these tickers and Twitter callouts and the focus on gossipy junk that isn’t necessarily news, but generates web traffic and social media engagement. While the hope is to stimulate normal interactions, anyone that has ever been on the Internet knows that there are trolls lurking around every corner and under every bridge waiting to turn any comment or conversation into something miserable and depressing.

So what can we learn from all this?

First and foremost, TSN needs to do a much, much better job at vetting the tweets that they put on air.

Secondly, Twitter needs to create an “Are you sure?” safeguard that comes up before your tweet goes live because simply deleting something stupid doesn’t make it disappear forever. They live forever on the Internet and there is no taking them back.

Next, maybe networks and programs need to stop courting the Twitter audience so much? Interaction is great, but WWE broadcasts don’t need to be running tallies of what is trending and studio shows don’t need a running ticker of what everyone is talking about because there is a whole segment of the population that will tweet something awful in hopes of getting a little attention.

If TSN wasn’t promoting the #TradeCentre hashtag and courting this kind of engagement, it wouldn’t be looking at a lawsuit right now.

Lastly, people need to stop being miserable on Twitter. And Instagram. And Facebook. And in general. Seriously.

Before you send the comment you think is funny/tough/cool/edgy/appropriate, pause and think about how you’d feel being on the receiving end of such a tweet.

Think about how you’d feel if someone said those things about your son or daughter, your wife, husband, cousin or anyone you love and hold dear. Think about how you’d feel if legions of anonymous people that know nothing genuine about you hurled insults in your direction or thought your pain and agony was funny simply because you play for a rival team or no good reason at all.

At the end of the day, the lesson is this: everyone could do well to stop focusing so much on followers and likes and RTs and FAVs or getting their 15 seconds of fame. Sports and social media are both supposed to be fun. Remember that and we’ll be alright.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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