Athletes and the Dark Side of Social Media

It’s taken over the world, even though it has been mislabeled as “social media,” because there’s rarely anything social about it. It should be called “anti-social media,” since it usually goes viral when there is something controversial or mean-spirited or just plain stupid about it.  

A recent case in point is the furor caused by some New York Giants players, including All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who were heavily criticized for flying down to Miami during an off-day and then capturing their fun via social media as they partied on a boat. 

Some commentators have said that the players’ mini-vacation was harmless fun that is nobody else’s business, and others have criticized the players for not being completely focused on their playoff game against Green Bay. And it didn’t help the players’ cause when the Giants in general, and Beckham in particular, played poorly in a 38-13 loss to the Packers. In that a game, Beckham – who caught more than 100 passes for more than 1,000 yards in the regular season – had just four receptions for 28 meaningless yards. 

Of course, nobody would have even known they were in Miami, much less partying the night away, if it wasn’t for social media and people’s addiction to watching it and posting to it.

And the Giants players did it to themselves, which makes it even dumber.

Since everybody above the age of three has their own cell phone and can take high-definition pictures whenever they want, many athletes have been caught unawares by celebrity sniping. Whether it’s Johnny Manziel dancing at a night club or Michael Phelps smoking a bong at a party, nobody is safe. 

It was obviously a different world back in the 1980s, when I covered the Eagles during their training camps at West Chester University. Back in those days, players and reporters used to mingle socially and both groups would occasionally visit The Rathskeller, a local tavern, for a few beers after our day’s work was done. During that time I saw several Eagles players doing things that their fans, not to mention their wives, would have been appalled at. Since it was their private lives and didn’t impact what happened on the playing field, I never even considered writing about what I saw. 

Today, of course, it doesn’t matter if a reporter is around to observe those kinds of things, since everyone has a camera in their pocket and can take a picture and immediately upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or hundreds of other sites. And, in an instant, millions of people know that All-Pro Joe Schmoe is in some bar, breaking commandments. 

Many athletes (and, of course, one certain president-elect) regularly post to their Twitter accounts because they feel they can talk directly to fans and not have their words misinterpreted by one of those low-life sports writers. And that’s fine, although it’s also easy for those tweeting athletes to make fools of themselves without anybody else’s help, since Twitter, with its142-character limit, doesn’t leave much room for nuance. Remember when LeSean McCoy was with the Eagles and looked like a clueless clod for some of the things he tweeted? 

That’s why athletes at every level are now being lectured about the dangers of social media, just like they’re lectured about the evils of alcohol, drugs and gambling. But so many people – especially the younger generation, which never knew life without all of their devices – seem to be addicted to anti-social media and they’re powerless to stay away from it. 

It’s gotten to the point where a marketing and advertising professional by the name of Jonathan Ressler started his own business where he tutors athletes – professional, college and high school – about the advantages and pitfalls of social media.

But despite the warnings and the harsh lessons learned by others, people can’t seem to stop. Every facet of their life has to be posted to Facebook and every thought that enters their brain has to be shared on Twitter with the rest of the world, even though the rest of the world really doesn’t care. Those people still haven’t learned that social media, like all powerful tools, can be used for good or evil. Or it can simply make you look like an idiot.

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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

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