During the recent NFC Championship game, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee. The severity of his injury, which was questioned by many, sidelined the star QB for the entire second half. The result was costly, as the Bears eventually lost the game and a chance to appear in this week’s Super Bowl.
What followed his injury was the “NFL’s first player-on-player social media attack,” as reported by Yahoo! Sports reporter Dan Wetzel. Several current and past NFL players (during and after the game) called out Cutler’s manhood, heart, character and pain threshold on Twitter.
Wetzel’s article stated, “Never before have we had such raw and direct access to real-time thoughts of NFL players.” According to him, the steady stream of tweets significantly changed the dynamic of the story.
Instead of discussing the Bears’ near comeback in frigid weather with a third string quarterback, linebacker Brian Urlacher and countless other players had to defend Cutler and play Doogie Howser, M.D. about his injury. Wetzel correctly pointed out, “The questions by reporters were more aggressive than they would’ve been pre-twitter because journalists could lean on the opinion of NFL players to frame things.”
It has been noted by many that Twitter seems to be the preferred choice of pro athletes for several reasons. It’s quick and simple. Tweets can be completed from personal mobile devices. It allows players to manage the message; instead of reporters editing sound bites. Further, the social media site allows athletes to interact with fans and manage their personal brands.
In a recent story about social media controversy and pro athletes, NBCsports.com writer Elisa Castrodale, found a timely study about Twitter that was conducted by the International Journal of Sport Communication.
“Researchers analyzed more than 1,900 tweets from professional athletes and discovered that the largest percentage of their tweets (34 percent) were interactions with their fans and followers. Diversions and topics unrelated to sports were the second largest category (28 percent), followed by “players discussing their own teams or sports” (15 percent).” The report concluded that “Twitter was a powerful tool for increasing fan-athlete interaction.”
In closing, Cutler’s injury turned out to be the least of his concern following the big game. The personal attacks (posted on Twitter and elsewhere) hurt considerably more than his banged up knee and will lead to questions about his physical toughness for several years.