With the rise of social media including Facebook and Twitter in recent years, it is hard to deny the widespread effects these interactive social networks have had on connecting our society. After all, there are currently 115 million active monthly users on Twitter, and over 1 billion active monthly users on Facebook.
That being said, it comes as no surprise that the field of journalism has taken great steps to utilize social media to connect with consumers and bring them news as quickly and easily as possible, as well as to cultivate sources and discover story ideas.
This is similarly true for the field of Sports Journalism, which has had to evolve in the face of Social Media. Sports journalism has been uniquely affected by the growth of social media, as sports journalists now must also at times cover athletes and teams on social media as well. The way sports figures use social media and interact with fans has both benefits and drawbacks, but without a doubt, it is a tool that carries major implications no matter how it is used.
The Immediate Access of Fans to Athletes through Social Media Changes the Game for Sports Journalism
As longtime Washington Post Sports Editor and Director of the University of Maryland's Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, George Solomon, stated, the rise of Social Media has given audiences direct access to sports figures, taking sports journalists out of the equation in a sense.
Of course, the rise of social media has not cut out the need for sports journalists by any means, as game coverage, in-depth interviews, professional analysis, and investigative stories are still very much essential to the field.
However, with almost every major athlete imaginable on twitter alone, fans now have an open window into the lives of athletes to a degree never seen before, allowing them to learn more about players and hear whatever it is that they have to say, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with sports. Similarly, fans are able to reach out directly to players, and it is up to the athletes how involved they want to be with fans on social media.
How players choose to use social media can either be to their advantage, or their downfall, though.
Athletes Can Make Themselves The Story Depending On How They Use Social Media, So They Must Strive To Be Responsible
As Professor Solomon points out, athletes need to be responsible when it comes to their use of social media so that they don't make themselves the story.
In fact, there are numerous dangers that social media poses to athletes. Take a look at this article full of infamous examples.
First of all, social media can come back to bite players if people post about seeing them misbehaving out in daily life, which is just one of many ways that athletes and team officials can be fined for using social media. As seen in the previous link, the NFL does not allow players to use social media for 90 minutes before or after a game, and the NBA does the same with a 45-minute window.
Also, what many people may not realize is the fact that athletes also take a lot of flack on twitter (warning: there is some explicit language on examples in the linked article) from "trolls" or upset fans. Without a doubt, athletes respond to attackers in different ways. Some are able to brush it off easily, but others who are more outspoken sometimes get caught up in the moment and lash out telling fans off.
In order to prepare athletes to deal with social media, many teams have specific policies that they train athletes to follow. Many colleges are becoming increasingly strict on this front, as players are generally not allowed to detail any team conduct or criticize fans, coaches, teammates or University officials in the public eye.
Regardless, there is no questioning the fact that social media gives every athlete the opportunity to control their own image and interact with fans however they choose at the end of the day.
However, Social Media Can Be A Valuable Tool for Athletes to Connect to Fans
Despite all of the aforementioned dangers, social media can be a vital tool for athletes to stay connected to fans and even grow their fan base. Most people generally enjoy the opportunity to not only get a good look at what their sports heroes are thinking, but also to be able to relate to them as people.
An athlete who uses social media well, whether it be to post inspirational messages, say funny things, give a look into their dream worlds, or even just to thank fans for support, can attract and endear other users and grow their awareness in the public eye.
As the fan in the audio clip above stated, he feels closer to his teams by following athletes on social media. It makes him a bigger fan of players than he already is.
And at the end of the day, social media is all about connecting people. Even though it presents something new for sports journalists to examine and keep an eye on, it is a powerful tool for both fans and sports figures, and helps to grow the industry of sports as a whole. As our society becomes increasingly technologically literate, it will be fun to see the ways in which social media and sports journalism continue to intertwine moving forward.