Last week, word surfaced that a woman was accusing Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes of hitting her in the face with a glass during an altercation at a night club. This news, in and of itself, is not terribly remarkable. Some athletes get into trouble, just like any other group of people. What was interesting was the way in which I found out about it. I didn't hear about it on TV, read it in the newspaper or even on ESPN.com; instead my cell phone vibrated, letting me know that one of the sports reporters I follow on Twitter had just tweeted that Holmes was under investigation for assault, and that the reporter would be posting a full story later.
For some people, especially the tech-savvy younger generations, finding out news in this way seems completely commonplace. That, however, is not the way that the mainstream media has previously operated. More than ever before, there exists a schism between the old media and the new. In a culture that values immediacy in everything from news to food, the old method of picking up a newspaper for your headlines has swiftly become obsolete. If you don't believe me, just do a quick Google search for "newspaper closings."
Nowhere does this disconnect between the media and its subjects become more apparent than in sports. The phenomenon of social media has been around for quite some time; Facebook was founded in 2004, Twitter in 2006. However, when Charlie Villanueva tweeted during the halftime of a game against the Celtics last year, he set off a comical firestorm of activity in the sports world. It was as if nobody over the age of 30 had heard of Twitter, what its purpose was or how it worked. Policies strictly limiting usage of social media were made commonplace not only in the NBA, but also in the NFL and NCAA.
The real flaw of this reactive system is that it shows that the leagues and those who cover them are completely out of touch with their players' interests. They have gotten so stuck in their ways of thinking that they refuse to adjust to the way people interact in the here and now. Those who talk about how athletes in the past wouldn't do such things are making a pointless argument because in the same breath you would also have to mention that no such technology existed in the past.
The countless fifty-somethings in the media have no means to relate to the twenty-somethings that make up the majority of professional athletes, and yet these commentators and columnists rake the athletes over the coals for something like tweeting at halftime of a game. Today's athlete is different than the athletes of 20 years ago, and 20 years from now everything will be different once again. To treat every generation the same, then, is unfair and downright stubborn. It's no wonder that these writers-- I think most notably of Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, who really shouldn't have a job-- are losing their readership and that their publications are going out of business. They once were big names, but now many of them represent a generation that is no longer relevant in sports. They either need to adjust to the new world they live in or find a new line of work.
This, ultimately, brings me back to Villanueva and Holmes. The obvious argument against Villanueva's tweeting habit would be that it is a huge distraction. In the aforementioned Celtics game, after Villanueva told his followers that he had to "step up," he posted 19 second half points and his Bucks ended up beating the Celtics because of his effort. He clearly was able to avoid becoming distracted by his other interests. On the other end is Holmes, who in spite of his character being questioned, wisely decided to tell one of his followers on Twitter that he "shud try finding the worst thing that you could drink n kill urself." He obviously is having some trouble finding the right way to use Twitter and should probably consider deleting his account. As fans, we consume whatever information we are given, regardless of who it is from. If the athletes themselves can manage it responsibly, what right do we, or any media member, have to tell them they can't be the ones to give it to us?