How Social Media Can Impact the Sports World

Story: Trevor Bell

Aug. 15, 2013

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Stories about sports make up a large part of today's news coverage. In particular, information and news about star players are what drive headlines, and celebrity athletes can play a significant role in strategic communication efforts. In the past, audiences relied on traditional media outlets to acquire this news. Now, social media essentially opens a window into these athletes' lives – exposing both the bad and the good stories that might have previously been overlooked.

We spoke with David Just, a sports reporter for the Dallas Morning News and former sports reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, to understand how social media has had an impact on both athletes and journalists.

"For the media, social media makes it easier in a way because athletes can self report and can get whatever messages they want out to the public, without relying on us," Just said. "Journalists no longer need to break news as much because athletes break it themselves on Twitter. For example, high school athletes who are 'addicted' to Twitter will announce which school they are committing to through this platform."

Just did, however, offer fair warning when using tweets as a news source. He explained that journalists and media simply cannot rely on social media for their information. They need confirmation, whether it's from the player, the school, or the player's coach.

From the coaching standpoint, Just acknowledged that coaches seemingly have two approaches to dealing with social media: those who monitor it heavily and those who let the players do what they want, with the hopes that they know how to represent themselves.

"Coaches who are very much monitoring what kids do place more emphasis on making sure their players don't do something stupid where they get unwanted attention or trouble," Just said. "Conversely, for coaches who expect their players to act like adults, they make it clear up front they won't deal with this content. A lot of coaches say to their players that they're adults. They now what's appropriate. Act accordingly."

Coaches should be concerned, as there are ample examples of how players can damage their reputation – and that of their teams – through how they use social media. A recent example of the type of backlash toward an athlete that can occur because of social media use comes in the form of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner , quarterback at Texas A&M University.

While Manziel has amazed people on the field, he is leaving just as many – if not more – people amazed off it. Whether it's the arrest in June 2012, the departure from the highly-esteemed Manning Passing Academy during the offseason, being thrown out of fraternity parties at rivaling schools, or his seemingly endless comments on Twitter, Manziel's social media use has served not only to portray himself in a negative light, but has also helped amplify and fuel extended media coverage of his antics beyond that which would have occurred in a pre-social media news environment.

The social media-fueled circus surrounding Manziel has even led some to speculate as to how this attention will affect his future career in the NFL. Now that Manziel is being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly selling his autograph for money – a violation against NCAA rules – one has to wonder as to how the image he has cultivated in both traditional and social media will affect the public's and news media's perceptions as the story plays out.

Manziel is neither the first nor will he be the last athlete to make mistakes in their life off the field; however, because of the superstar status he now possesses, his flaws and mistakes are being thrust to the forefront of the public's attention due to the impact of social media.

Just echoed these sentiments and offered his opinion regarding the impact that social media has on athletes. "When you look at a guy like Johnny Manziel's antics and his Twitter posts, you can't help but put the blame on him for bringing constant embarrassment to himself and his school," Just said. "However, it's not only him that's using Twitter; it's other people, too. Anytime he does anything wrong, whether it's him getting drunk at a bar or sending negative tweets to people, other people spread that fire. Social media has vastly increased the negative exposure that he's getting. Social media has worked against him in ways which aren't always his fault."

We ran a Twitter analysis to see the volume in which users discussed Manziel. The graph below shows nearly 275,000 tweets were sent regarding Manziel over a two-week period, during which his NCAA violation came to light.

Johnny Manziel Twitter Analysis

It's apparent that social media can have a large impact on the sporting world, particularly athletes. It's up to athletes using social media – and the publicists and other communications professionals working with them – to understand the ramifications that come along with this use and to also be aware of how to properly avoid the potential negative exposure that social media can generate.