Twitter and the Sports Experience Part 1

Posted: June 15, 2012 in Bunker


Bill Maher said it best “Tweets are just brain farts” and I tend to agree. They are thoughts, many times impulsive that are unfortunately confined to 140 characters. Not much of a chance to provide nuance and within seconds you have published something that will forever live on the internet forever. In the beginning I was wholly against twitter, as it seemed to be celebrity obsessed, useless and never seemed to provide any deep level of insight I wanted unless there was a link provided. In addition it gave the narcissists a platform to opine what seemed to be undeveloped thoughts and perspectives. It was too reactionary for me at first. Why do I want to see what a whole bunch of people’s first knee jerk reactions were to an event?

I cam down from my ivory tower and started using twitter, following sports pundits (sometimes referred to as “writers” or “journalists”), political pundits, comedians and bloggers. More importantly, I wouldn’t follow athletes and entertainers. The last thing I needed to read were entertainers and athletes sparring with their “haters” or embracing the adulation from fans who live for nothing more than getting a Re-tweet.

Like any linguist will tell you, languages evolve, sometimes rapidly within particular subcultures. I was sucked into the subculture, enjoying some of the arguments between the pundits (both petty and intellectual) and becoming fascinated with the controversies that were sparked as a result of these “brain farts”. Tweets also became the home for new types of gaffes. Instead of blurting out inappropriate comments, there were those who took the time to type them and more shockingly, to hit send! Within 5 minutes of the tweet-gaffe and after dealing with responses to the gaffe, the tweeter would retreat. Delete the comment and prepare your mea-culpa. Even with the mea-culpa expect it to make the news especially if you’re one of those selected few with a “verified” twitter handle.

The most interesting part of twitter is the way it  has revolutionized the sports viewing experience for me. Prior to twitter, a player was judged by his game to game performance. We reacted to the results of the game through sports radio, we digested columns and articles from journalists and we’d give them our perspective via e-mail or telephone call on a radio show. Those days of limited interaction are over. With trending topics, you not only share the experience with the “verified” tweeters, but also with other casual fans. The legacy of a particular game is still determined by the outcome, however, with twitter we now share in the journey of the game. We comment on every missed call, penalty, foul call, homer run, pitch, double play etc.. It creates an even more dramatic rollercoaster and you digest that the experts’ perspective in real time. It enhances (or detracts from) your experience watching the game or can often add perspective that you would usually have to wait for by the end of the game. We indict players and teams on a minute to minute basis in a way that was never done in such a public manner. The more intense or important the game, the greater the scrutiny of every play. The phrase “let’s not rush judgment” has been seemingly made obsolete with the advent of twitter and the “trending topic.” The trending topic lays itself for overreaction and no one is immune.

It’s also fascinating the see the antagonistic relationship that exists between journalist and fan. It usually goes something like this: Fan accuses journalist/expert of being biased, racist, offensive or disrespecting a player or team. Journalist/expert dismisses fan in condescending manner. Fan reacts with an immature comment usually calling the journalist/expert a name. Journalist/Expert #blocked. While that can get old and is at best mildly amusing, it has highlighted the tumultuous relationship between sports journalist and fan.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of the long-time journalists, but judging by their apoplectic and curt reactions to fans’ tweets, the twitter journalist seems to be shocked by the idiocy of sports fans. Even more fascinating is reading what and who the journalist decides to respond to publicly. Rarely anyone who seems to fall in line with their perspective and even more rare someone who presents a good point. It seems as though a large portion of the public replies are the fringe fanatics who are usually concerned with conspiracy theories and/or repeating tired narratives that have long been disproven. It’s as if by portraying the fan in a less than positive light, the journalist is saying “hey remember I am STILL the expert”. Which is valid, but tends to rub the fan the wrong way, especially those who want to interact with the journalist in manner where they can actually gain some of their unique perspective. The fan vs. athlete, pundit vs. pundit, fan vs. pundit, pundit vs. athlete, athlete vs. athlete banter is what make twitter magnetic whether or not the game is actually being played.

Has twitter made the narrative as important as the game itself? That’s yet to be seen, but we’re certainly on the way.

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