Friday, April 10, 2009

Twitter and sports: a match made in cyberspace

On its surface, Twitter brings nothing new to the table. The nucleus is based around a Facebook/Myspace status update, 140 characters or less, with little else going for it other than a background picture. It seems to offer nothing. Made famous by congressmen (so you know it can't be good), the site has been gaining speed based off the membership of one particular group of people; athletes.

If you have a David Byrne-esque questioning phase, first let me explain. Or better yet, let Twitter founder Biz Stone explain:

"I think the appeal there (with celebrities) is not only are they connecting with fans, but they're controlling their messaging. The tabloids aren't."

Granted, Stone there is referring to Demi Moore, not Dwight Howard. But the idea is interesting though. The most famous Twitterer, uh Tweeter, uh Tweet, whatever it's called, is Shaq. While most people will talk about The Big Shaqtus posting pictures of himself sleeping or shaving, the thing that struck me is instances where he'd give away tickets to fans via Twitter. The thought of someone as big as Shaq (status-wise, not literally) telling people "I'll be here, come get some tickets", is something completely different and somewhat fresh.

But where this really makes a difference is the "inside information" once so heavily guarded by the sports media is now open to the public. For example, where else could you have gotten word that on Tuesday night, Coco Crisp went out for some drinks with some friends and didn't get back to his hotel room until 6:00 am? It's the kind of thing we imagine beat writers and line-setters are privy to, and our exclusion is what lumps us together as fans. The "athletes-in-real-life" exposé is ours for the taking. Why read what some mid-life journalist's take on your favorite superstar is, when that same player can tell you himself?

Another subject brought on by Twitter, and more specifically the midnight conquests of lead-off men for the Royals, is that sports are turning back the clock. Upon telling the Crisp story (which I found interesting at the time for purely gambling purposes), the most common response was of positive nature. It reminded people of the good ol' days, when athletes played hard all day and partied harder at night. When they smoked and drank, not shot up in the locker room and wrote autobiographies in their thirties. Not to say Crisp is a throwback who can't say no to a drink or a line. And for all we know, athletes have never changed. But the coverage did, and with it, so did their image. But as Mr. Stone said, athletes get to write their own stories now, not Outside The Lines. And these stories hearken to the golden days of sports. Brett Favre isn't the average Joe-quarterback, but nearly every other QB in the league is. That's refreshing, and it makes sports in 2009 that much more watchable.


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