Social media transforms the world of sports

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JP Gibson, a 5-year-old from Utah, with leukemia, wanted to play for the Jazz his whole life. The Jazz organization helped Gibson get on the court and play with the team in a scrimmage. When Gibson entered the game, the crowd went wild. Jazz center Rudy Gobert hoisted Gibson up toward the basket during the scrimmage and helped him dunk it.

Gobert’s countenance lit up when he revisited the event.

“It was great. I didn’t know it was going to be so big,” Gobert said. “It was great to help him realize his dream.”

The Jazz put a video of this experience on social media and sent it around the nation into a frenzy. Thousands of users on Twitter and Facebook expressed how great the Jazz organization is for that small act of kindness, increasing the Jazz fan base everywhere.

Gobert has seen the positive effects of social media from this event. He believes there are more Jazz fans now after this experience and deflected any praise that came from being a part of it.

“It was just for the kid,” Gobert said. “It was great for him and for the Jazz.”

Maddi Dayton
Jordan Leslie celebrates after catching a touchdown against Virginia during the 2014 season. Leslie uses social media to reach out to fans that support the team. (Maddi Dayton, Sterling Randle)

Social media has affected the sports world immensely. Nearly every athlete has a social media account, and it is unheard of for a sports organization not to be active online. Social media has also changed the jobs of journalists and coaches across the world.

Athletes are interacting with fans right now more than ever, thanks to social media. A study done in February 2014 shows that 78 percent of student athletes have a Twitter account, 94 percent have Facebook, and 78 percent have Instagram.

Social media has opened up athletes’ lives to the public. For athletes with relatable personalities and fan-friendly mindsets, social media platforms such as Twitter are a great way to connect with fans and give fans a look at the athletes lives outside of sports. Social media gives sports organizations the opportunity to build rapport with fans and establish themselves as positive members of the community.

However, not all social media in the sports world is positive. Athletes or sports organizations still make the occasional blunder online and have nowhere to hide when they do. The BYU sports information directors specifically train athletes on proper social media usage. Nick Henderson, a sports information director at BYU, explained what the athletes are and aren’t allowed to do on social media.

“They are encouraged to share photos or videos, especially while on the road, to give the fans some insights,” Henderson said. “They are told to always be positive and think twice before every post. They are encouraged to not post in the heat of the moment.”

Henderson has not experienced a social media nightmare in his job as an SID but prepares for the day when he might have to. He thinks social media for athletes is overall a good thing.

“It allows fans to really connect to the athletes and get to know them better,” he said.

Twitter has changed the journalism world. Twitter only allows for 140 total characters in each message. To fit a link, a picture and a headline in that amount of space, journalists have adapted to write short, concise and easy-to-search headlines. Twitter has also added pressure on journalists to get their stories out as fast as they can to beat competition.

Twitter has changed Somini Sengupta’s job. A journalist for the New York Times, she relies heavily on Twitter to obtain information and inform her audience about her articles and current events.

“I like it because it pushes me to read things that I may not have otherwise heard about,” Sengupta said. “Also, people make news on Twitter. It’s also a great way for me to do real-time reporting. I know the people that follow me are interested in what I have to report about.”

Sengupta, like many sports journalists, finds that Twitter helps her to quickly write a developing story.

“I tweet about what’s happening in real time, and then it helps me to construct the story,” Sengupta said. “When I have to file my first web story, I’ve already written the first three paragraphs with my Twitter posts. So it helps me that way.”

Twitter has quickly become sports journalists’ best friend, too. Fans no longer have to wait until the next day to get in-depth analysis on a player or a team; they simply need to follow a journalist on Twitter to receive instant updates.

Aaron Morton, the sports editor of DeseretNews.com, explained that Twitter has changed the landscape of the sports journalism world. He believes journalists can use Twitter in four ways.

“There’s the people who don’t do it all, just tweet here and there,” Morton said. “Then there’s the guys that just tweet out their stories. A step above them are the guys who tweet out their thoughts along with their stories. Then there’s the super-users, who interact with their fans and readers. That’s how you get followers, is doing that. It takes a quick wit, though, because you just have to have ‘it.’”

Morton also said Twitter has changed the sports world because of how accessible athletes and coaches are to fans. He explained that a journalist could write an entire article based off of one tweet from a big-time athlete.

Social media has also changed the way college coaches recruit high school athletes, negatively and positively.

Ralph Russo, of the Associated Press, reported that in recent years, many colleges have withdrawn scholarship offers to students who have questionable characters on social media. Some high schools with big-time recruits have even assigned assistant coaches to monitor their athletes’ social media accounts.

Herb Hand, an assistant coach for the Penn State football team, has a huge presence on Twitter, with more than 22,000 followers. He takes athletes’ social media presence seriously and has been one of those coaches to withdraw scholarship offers.

Twitter gives sports fans an inside look to athletes’ lives and personalities like never before, for athletes in high school, college and the pros. For cocky and conceited athletes, and those a little out of touch with reality, Twitter is a negative thing. For down-to-earth athletes sincerely seeking to connect with fans, Twitter is a great tool.

A positive example of an athlete connecting with fans on social media is Jordan Leslie, a wide receiver on the BYU football team. Leslie is constantly interacting with fans on Twitter, asking for suggestions to restaurants and attractions around town and building a positive image in Provo. Leslie believes one of the best things an athlete can do is interact with fans in a positive way.

“I’ve tried to do a good job talking to everybody and trying not to big-time anybody,” Leslie said. “These fans want to reach out to you, they go to our games, and they support us. So why not support them?”

Leslie has faced negativity and criticism in his football career and has figured out the best way to overcome it.

“The best way is to ignore it,” Leslie said. “Don’t try to get worked into the back-and-forth, because no matter what, you’re held to a higher standard. I just try to ignore it or respond back in a positive way.”

Leslie also said that in a game in the 2014 season, a fan reached out to him on Twitter and asked him to write his son’s initials on his arm in memory of him, because the fan’s son had passed away a year before. Leslie couldn’t say no to a request like that and said it was a touching tribute for the fan. The fan later tweeted at him, “Men do cry.”

Often, sports organizations will promote their athletes and encourage their followers to ask them questions using a certain hashtag. This usually works out in a positive and non-controversial way; but back in August 2014, Florida State University asked its fans to tweet at infamous quarterback Jameis Winston any questions they might have.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2013 but has been mired in controversial issues his entire collegiate career, including stealing crab legs from a grocery store, bringing a BB gun on campus to shoot at squirrels, being investigated for sexual assault and yelling obscenities on campus.

Needless to say, the #AskJameis event was a disaster. Twitter users all across the country sarcastically tweeted at Winston, poking fun at his legal issues and intelligence.

Right now social media is in its “wild West” stage. Coaches, athletes and journalists are still adjusting to it, as it is still so new and full of possibilities. It has torn down many barriers in the sports world, given access to figures who otherwise would be impossible for the public to communicate with and has created additional sports fans across the world.

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