Jekyll and Hyde: Athletes Online

By India Hagen-Gates

Social media has become a link between fans and professional athletes. When used well it can bolster an athlete’s image and create new opportunities to expand their brand. Although there are many examples of social media use in the NFL that have helped players and teams, there is also a dark side to its use. Many NFL players are active users of social media, posting regularly to keep up their identity. 9/11 is an example of a day when many turn to social media to show support, share grievances, and connect to their neighbor. It is no different for professional athletes. This year, many NFL players posted about the day, posting images, videos, professing thoughts and prayers. Through one simple post, the athletes created a deeper connection with their fans and community.

On the other hand, athletes can often make dire mistakes to their career with just one post. The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, gives Roger Goodell, the commissioner, the power to discipline any player he views has violated this agreement. The Personal Conduct Policy works to reprimand any unlawful or harmful actions a player has taken. The document is clear that it will punish any action that may be damaging to the reputation of the NFL and it has extended beyond just an athlete’s action, but now to their posts on social media.

The Miami Dolphins fined one of their players over a tweet in which they criticized an openly gay player. Now that athletes can share their opinion with one click of a button, it leads to questions about conduct. Where does the professional athlete stop and the private citizen start? Athletes are always representing their team, but many players feel that fining over a comment on social media is crossing the line. Many teams are holding training sessions for their athletes, to define boundaries and let their athletes know what they can and cannot say to prevent any future problems.     

Overall, social media is a necessary tool for athletes. There are many examples of athletes using it well, strengthening their brand, and maintaining a healthy relationship with their fans. There has also been problems emerging as players and teams in the NFL adjust to this new channel of communication. As with any new medium, there is a learning curve. Athletes must remember that they are always representing their team and the NFL with every post. The athletes and their teams choose to fully accept social media, they have to address the rules and regulations of its culture.