BYU students know well through first-hand experience how the onset of social media forever changed fan interaction with sports and its athletes.
In 2010, Jimmer-mania swept through Provo, illustrated best by what happened when Michelle Peralta wrote a letter to BYU’s The Daily Universe sparking an epic Facebook thread of “Jimmerisms:”
“Let Jimmer garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.”
“Ask not what Jimmer can do for you, ask what you can do for your Jimmer.”
“Every time the Jimmer drains a three, an angel gets its wings.”
ESPN even began following this thread, and an article by one of the network’s premier reporters, Eamonn Brennan, appeared the following morning.
Many major analysts also pointed to this craze about Fredette over social media during college basketball’s National Player of the Year discussions.
Social media conversations reached the forefront of national media talk, and today social media is more prevalent than ever, including examples like how ESPN will have viewers tweet in suggestions daily for SportsCenter “Top 10” plays.
Twitter has established itself as the primary social media channel for sports banter today, evidenced by trends like Tebow-mania and Linsanity, which originated on Twitter; however, there also have been instances more recently of athletes getting in trouble for tweets like at the London Olympic Games.
So now the question lies, has social media, and Twitter in particular, been good for sports?
“If the purpose of sports is entertainment alone, then yes, Twitter is good for sports,” writer for ESPN TrueHoop Network and BYU student Evan Hall said. “More arguments, more snarky jokes and more analysis.”
Twitter has provided media personnel with a great new system to connect with its readership and actively take part in the arguments and jokes readers are involved in. For media personnel, this is a positive step, as they need engaged readers.
“Social media has allowed writers to interact immediately with our readers and also provides a great avenue for promoting content to a much larger audience, …” Drew Roberts, contributor at OBNUG.com (part of college football’s SB Nation blog network), said. “I definitely like to be able to interact with other fans during games and during the daily news cycle.”
In the past, writers would not be able to connect with readers immediately, and the biggest difference between pre-Twitter media and today is how the gap between an event and its analysis has been bridged.
This leads to never-before-seen phenomena such as Tebow-mania and Linsanity, caused by an entire nation of sports fans giving their own analysis simultaneously.
In late 2011, the Denver Broncos opted to go with controversial quarterback Tim Tebow over Jay Cutler and Brady Quinn when the Broncos began 2011 with a disappointing 1-4 record.
Despite a large contingency of the national media criticizing the decision to play Tebow, he orchestrated a series of unbelievable comebacks, took the Broncos into the playoffs and defeated the Steelers in the AFC wild-card game with an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime.
After this play, Twitter erupted to 9,420 tweets per second about Tebow, an all-time record for a sporting event.
To put this into perspective, Tebow received more tweets per second than did Osama bin Laden’s death (5,106 tweets per second), Steve Jobs’ resignation from Apple (7,064), and news of Beyonce’s pregnancy (8,868).
The NBA immediately thereafter found a star of its own, an unknown and undrafted player named Jeremy Lin. Early February 2012, he led a surprising surge for the New York Knicks and took the NBA by storm.
In just a span of February to April 2012, Lin passed Kobe Bryant for the No. 2 spot on the list of highest-selling jerseys, and the list had been counting all of Bryant’s jersey sales since April of the previous year. The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose held down the No. 1 spot for the season.
Never before had fans seen any sports trends reach the extremes witnessed in these separate situations, and they occurred within about a month of each other. But why did this happen?
Because it happened during a fast-growth period for Twitter.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo reported in October 2011 that Twitter increased by 100 million users from Sept. 2011 to March 2012 — the months spanning the peak of both Tebow-mania and Linsanity. Prior to Sept. 2011, they estimated they had a total of only 40 million users.
The exciting revolution Twitter brought to the sports world also brought negatives, however.
“Twitter allows fans to interact better and keeps people better connected to sporting news,” Roberts said, “but the bad would have to be that Twitter has become another distraction and headache for compliance departments and coaches. Fans can be overly critical or chummy with athletes, and recruits and do a lot of damage. Players can be ‘too real’ and turn off loyal fans. It can be a two-edged sword.”
A good example of the two-edged sword of Twitter occurred when Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was kicked off the national team prior to the 2012 London Olympic Games for a racist tweet.
There are also many collegiate sports teams who have found Twitter to be a distraction for their student-athletes and banned athletes from Twitter, especially during the season.
BYU does not have any single over-arching policy regarding Twitter for student-athletes but has left each head coach to manage his or her own team.
Cougar Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall did not have much to comment, except for, “I don’t know much about it, and I don’t really know how to use it. It can add a lot of noise, but nothing I pay particular attention to.”
Defensive standout for the Cougars, junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, is a regular user of Twitter and also felt Twitter can be used for good and bad.
“It depends on how people are using Twitter,” Van Noy said. “There are instances where players make poor choices and say things they shouldn’t. There have been times where high school kids have lost scholarships. As far as that goes, there have been negatives, but there have also been positives, like with Kevin Durant organizing flag football over Twitter, and I know an instance where someone got baptized over Twitter. All in all, depends how you use it. It can be positive or negative.”
Twitter has certainly revolutionized the sports industry by bringing the media, athletes and fans together who add fuel to the fire of excitement surrounding sports.
On the other hand, it is also unfortunate to have to see Olympians sent home from their life dreams and to see high school athletes being turned away from scholarships for ill-worded messages.
Indeed, there are consequences to choices, even in the realm of social media.