Screen capture of Twitter profile
Can social media be damaging to an athlete’s reputation?

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The presence of sports people on social media websites has indisputably been welcomed by fans across the globe. Through various platforms, most notably Twitter, fans are now closer than ever to their idols and this is one of the numerous reasons why this facet of modern society is positive. In spite of this though, there are other sports men and women for whom the decision to take to these sites has been unwise. It is thus clear that the use of social media by sports people is a grey area, something which has both positive and negative implications.

One of the most closely watched British sporting events of the last twelve months was; The 2013 Ashes Test Series from which England emerged victorious. As the sequence of matches went on and it looked increasingly likely that the home side would retain the prized urn, fans were able to keep up to date with the players’ own emotions.

One of the men integral to England’s victory, spin bowler Graeme Swann, reported on a daily basis on the goings on within the home squad. The day after the series success was sealed, at Durham’s Chester-Le-Street, Swann posted, “No better place to win the ashes than the North East, just 15 mins  from the Toon! #howaythelads”. Contrary to the language used in official statements, Twitter acts as a medium through which athletes are able to express their true emotions and thus is as close to a conversation as most sports fans will have with their heroes.

Whilst Swann’s tweets are often well received, a fellow England cricketer found himself in trouble following comments directed towards ex-international-turned-commentator Nick Knight in 2012.

Kevin Pietersen’s post on the social media site questioned Knight’s position in the commentary box, branding his role as “Ridiculous”. The England and Wales Cricket Board subsequently fined the batsman an undisclosed sum, a portion of which was suspended for 12 months based on his future conduct, as his comments had brought the board in to disrepute and contravened England players’ “conditions of employment”. This was not the first time Pietersen’s remarks on Twitter had caused controversy and since, there have been further questions over whether or not he should continue to utilise the site. The cricketer is not the only sports person to have instigated discussion due to his use of social media though.

Whilst Pietersen directed his comments towards a former sports personality, British Formula 1 Driver Lewis Hamilton focussed his outburst upon then McLaren colleague Jenson Button. Just over a year ago Hamilton wrote, “Just noticed @jensonbutton unfollowed, thats a shame. After 3 years as teammates, I thought we respected one another but clearly he doesn’t.” The driver was soon forced to backtrack though upon the realisation that Button had never followed him in the first place. Hamilton has since removed the tweets, but it’s unlikely that his compatriot Button will have forgotten the slur, whilst sports fans worldwide have once again been reminded of his sometimes reckless nature.

In spite of the fact that sports men and women’s utilisation of various forms of social media have proven to be problematic, nevertheless there are many more benefits to its usage. As Twitter is a digital source of information which can be updated instantaneously, it is possible for news to break, far quicker than it can be distributed by the world’s media outlets. Andy Murray’s straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic at this year’s Wimbledon was one of the most tweeted about events in history, with an average of 120,000 tweets per minute recorded in relation to the event, meaning anyone in the world could keep up with it. Murray’s own reaction to the win, like Swann’s regarding The Ashes, gave an insight in to the athletes own feelings rather than an official statement delivered by a public relations expert. Once again Twitter’s value was apparent and as such, it is evident that for sports people it can be a help as oppose to a hindrance.

Although anyone who was interested could keep up with Murray’s Grand Slam winning performance via Twitter, an event which truly became breaking news on the site was Eden Hazard’s announcement that he would be signing for the 2012 UEFA Champions League winners, Chelsea Football Club. Whilst there were no doubt discussions leading up to this for months, nothing concrete had been decided upon, until Hazard’s announcement. In this instance, a sports star’s utilisation of social media was beneficial, even if it just put to rest rumours about his future.

Whilst the utilisation of social media has proven to be problematic for a number of athletes, it must be considered that their presence on such sites as Twitter enhances their careers, as well as bringing them closer to the fans that idolise them.

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