By Dave Wischnowsky–
CHICAGO (CBS) What the tweet is going on with sports these days?
Kenny Williams doesn’t get it.
“I don’t particularly understand the whole social media thing,” the general manager of the Chicago White Sox said last Friday after his lightning rod of a manager was suspended and fined by Major League Baseball for criticizing an umpire via his @OzzieGuillen Twitter account.
Paul Konerko doesn’t get it.
“I guess MLB doesn’t let you do that stuff,” the White Sox first baseman said about Guillen’s tweets, which cost him a two-game suspension and $20,000. “That stuff is kind of beyond me as far as Twitter and all that stuff.”
Art Rooney II doesn’t get it.
“I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments,” the Steelers team president said Monday after star running back, Rashard Mendenhall, unleashed a series of head-scratching tweets about Osama bin Laden and 9/11.
And, to be honest, I don’t get it, either.
No, not Twitter and social media. I get that. What I don’t get is why professional sports franchises seem so willing to be hands-off when their employees embarrass the organization – or, in the case of Guillen, even miss work – because of foolish activity on Twitter.
In America, free speech is a right. But that doesn’t mean that Twitter is, too. And when athletes – or managers – show that they’re unable to tweet responsibly as representatives of their ballclubs, I think teams should tell them to stop their social media accounts.
Instead, though, we hear comments such as this:
“Ozzie is going to do what he’s going to do,” Konerko said last week about Guillen’s Twitter habits, “and I think we can agree no one is going to stop Ozzie.”
But shouldn’t the White Sox be able to do so?
Last Friday, though, after MLB blew the whistle on Guillen for inappropriate tweeting, the Sox’s manager came out and said: “Well, I learned a lesson. Am I going to Twitter? Yeah, that’s my private life.”
And that’s where Ozzie Guillen doesn’t get it.
Because, fact is, if you’re a celebrity – whether it be in sports, politics, movies or, heck, I don’t know, finger-painting – you really don’t have a private life if you’ve decided to broadcast any part of it online.
And Guillen – as well as Mendenhall – is among the many sports figures who have made the decision to live very publicly on the Internet. That choice has allowed them to attract thousands of followers, but it also has bestowed upon them an expectation of professional responsibility – even if many of them don’t seem to recognize it.
In Guillen’s case, his foolish tweets kept him from being able to even perform his $1.75 million-a-year job for two games when his ballclub clearly needs all the help it can get right now.
And in Mendenhall’s case, his recent irresponsible tweets about 9/11 conspiracy theories and how “we’ve only heard one side” of Osama bin Laden’s story, embarrassed the Pittsburgh Steelers organization enough that the team felt compelled to issue a statement making it clear that it supports the U.S. military.
With the lockout, there isn’t much the Steelers can do about Mendenhall’s Twitter right now, I suppose. But I’d be surprised if the team had shut @R_Mendenhall down even if they could. And the White Sox, meanwhile, act as if Guillen was born with a God-given right to tweet.
In Champaign, University of Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber bans his players from tweeting during the season. Now, that may seem a little harsh – and certainly does make the season a little less interesting. But it also makes the season a whole lot less apt to be unexpectedly controversial, as well.
And while I don’t think teams should ban their players and coaches from Twitter, I do think that if said players and coaches show they can’t tweet without affecting their job or embarrassing their bosses, someone should paying the bills should make them pull the plug.
In Cleveland, where Indians manager Manny Acta has so far tweeted with responsibity, he told his players: “If you can’t tell it to the press, don’t put it in a tweet.”
To which, I would say the Indians – and all teams – should have added: “But if you do, you won’t be tweeting any longer.”
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.