Athletes in the Twitter spotlight
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Seventy-three years ago today, on May 17, 1939, the United States’ first televised sporting event was broadcast by NBC.
Since then, the world of sports has been forever changed.
Similarly, on July 15, 2006, the social media site Twitter was introduced to the public and the world of sports saw an even more radical shift.
Just as television monumentally changed the way sports were consumed by the masses, Twitter has altered the way individual athletes are viewed by millions.
Without a doubt, Twitter has changed the game. It has taken fan and athlete interactions to the next level.
Fans can directly interact with anyone, from Shaq to Oregon State running back Malcolm Agnew.
Ten years ago, fans’ only chance at interaction with their favorite player was waiting in the parking lot next to the stadium after the game or by getting on some creepy stalker level like Damon Wayans in Celtic Pride.
Nowadays, a simple tweet can allow the world’s biggest Blazer fan to have an online conversation with LaMarcus Aldridge.
The question remains, though — is Twitter a good thing or a bad thing for athletes?
There is no white or black answer to that question; just many shades of gray.
The question is even more compounded at the student-athlete level, where average college students who play sports now have their lives bordering celebrity status.
Today’s generation of student-athletes is the first to experience this wave of social media that will no doubt change sports as much as television, instant replay and the wave did.
At Oregon State, many student-athletes have embraced the social network, tweeting every day and accumulating thousands of followers. Just last month there was a column in this very paper ranking the top-10 student-athlete tweeters at OSU.
Ryan Handford, a senior cornerback on the OSU football team, is an avid tweeter and sees it as an opportunity for athletes to show people who they truly are.
“I think it’s a good thing because it reassures people that we are more than just athletes. We are actually people,” Handford said. “You can use Twitter in so many different avenues, meeting people and making connections that you probably wouldn’t have made before.”
Handford also uses Twitter as a promotional tool for his clothing line, Doughpe.
Junior soccer player Lindsay Meiggs also views Twitter as a promotional tool for student-athletes.
“If you’re using it correctly, you can bring a lot more fans to follow your team,” Meiggs said. “Women’s soccer doesn’t have a huge following. We have certain fans who follow us and love everything and tag us in everything, and it’s awesome because it brings more awareness to our team.”
As popular as Twitter has become, there is still a fraction of student-athletes who have decided not join in on the trend.
Offensive lineman Michael Phillipp feels that communicating using Twitter is excessive.
“It’s up to you if you want to do all that Twitter stuff, but you can just keep it old school and talk to people face-to-face,” Phillipp said.
Although he doesn’t have a Twitter account, Phillip realizes the positives of having increased fan interaction.
Because so many athletes use Twitter to connect with fans, I asked Phillipp, “What should a Beaver fan do if they want to get to know more about Michael Phillipp?”
“They can meet up with me and we can exchange numbers if they ever want that,” he answered.
I would have expected that response out of Ken Simonton if I asked him the same question in 2001, but not a Division I student-athlete in 2012.
Nowadays, ask any professional or collegiate athlete how to best connect with them and they will tell you to follow them on Twitter.
Freshman soccer player Natalie Meiggs (sister of Lindsay), said that if a fan asked how to get to know her better, she would most definitely recommend following her on Twitter.
“Twitter is a good way for actual athletes and people who are in the spotlight to get even more acquainted with fans,” Natalie said. “I feel like Twitter, even if it’s not for your social side, it’s for your fanbase to see what you’re up to, what you’re doing, whether it’s practice or games or events.”
Give fans an opportunity to know more about their favorite athletes and they will jump on it. With increased fan interaction comes decreased privacy, though.
By putting themselves out on Twitter, college athletes and even top-notch high school athletes are becoming more well-known than ever before.