The millionth treatise on social media and sports

...or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Twitter

Let there be no mistake: sports agents and commissioners hate most social media, particularly Twitter.

PR and marketing people are all about "controlling the message." And that's exactly what is the easiest to lose on social media - control.

Picture a driver getting out of his race car fuming from being wrecked by a competitor, and immediately a microphone is shoved up to his mouth. You can actually hear the guy's handlers cringing and wringing their hands. Please don't say something STUPID, they pray.

That's what Twitter is like all the time. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Break out the Milk of Magnesia, boys, it's gonna be a looooong career.

You know that hoary old cliché, "There's no such thing as bad publicity?" Ignore it. That may have been true when news and gossip didn't travel at lightspeed and when spin doctoring was still a largely unseen and unacknowledged art.

In a filterless world, even the dirtiest of laundry can see the light of day instantaneously. What could be avoided by taking five deep breaths often gets loose because social media does not wait for impulse control. What's worse is that once it's out there, it's there forever. Even the fleetest of fingers cannot delete a Tweet fast enough to avoid someone taking a screen capture - just ask Kenneth Cole.

Then there is that problem called lack of context. No emoticon ever fashioned can replace vocal shading, facial expression, and nuance. What could be a risqué but largely harmless needling between pals becomes, through the magic of pixels and bare text, a Maury Povich trainwreck - not just because the intent was misjudged, but also because everyone following feels the need to pile on and "contribute."

The safest bet, of course, is simply not to participate. But that's not an option anymore for people in the public eye. That enormously high, thin wire needs to be walked in this age of information overload. It may not be pretty, but it is by and large necessary.

The trouble is that the sports world is still slow to catch on that the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" mentality that dominated their professional realm in years past has been blown wide open by the encroachment of this new Truman Show infotainment complex.

I wasn't in the racing industry six months before I heard a story about a driver whose wife received a Christmas present of a sex tape from the driver's mistress. Shocking? Yes. Scandalous? Of course. Public? No. At the time it remained a juicy bit of paddock chitchat, an "amusing" anecdote shared between men who spent nearly a full year in close proximity with each other slaving over hot engines and unforgiving metal. There are dozens - hundreds - of stories like that. Back in the day, they were laughed at, marveled over, but never shared outside the confines of the "family."

Now this kind of thing gets hashtagged, trended, and shared worldwide mere moments after it happens. The harsh jocularity of the locker room is replaced by the stark reality of the electronic Peeping Tom. Pleas for "space" and "understanding" are met with ridicule and derision - sadly with some merit, because sometimes those pleas come on the heels of people oversharing their personal affairs.

The problem with cyberspace is that it contains no humanity. Barack Obama said it best when he referred to the "fun-house image" of him that is praised, defiled, discussed, and deconstructed in the media. People's personalities on Twitter and other social media are ciphers, fabrications - reflecting a piece of reality but not the whole. At the same time, the context-free environment of immediately-available information strips every action and thought of clarifying or mollifying detail.

Brave new world? Or new world only for the brave? Like it or not, it is our societal reality, and in the glare of the public eye those who profit from it must learn to navigate it carefully and astutely.

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