Saturday, September 05, 2009

Twittering, free speech and sports

I apologize for defying blogging etiquette by not posting for a while, and then jumping in with a self plug, but I thought many of you might be interested in this issue because it touches on aspects of free speech, social media, and regulation as they relate to sports.

I am sure you are aware of last month's NFL incident with Chargers' cornerback Antonio Cromartie, where the team charged him a fine of $2,500 simply for castigating training-camp food on his Twitter page. In fact, coach Norv Turner specifically told Cromartie that he wasn't to say anything critical about the organization on Twitter.

Several other incidents with players saying so-called sensitive or offensive things on the microblog have happened recently. Notable ones were Vikings' Bernard Berrian's tweet, overblowing the consequences of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's knew injury, and Houston Dynamo star Brian Ching's tweet about a cheating referee. Ching was charged $500 for this.

After several teams tried to disallow Twitter use by players altogether, the NFL finally decided to simply ban tweeting by players within 90 minutes of the start of an NFL game, and until after media interviews following the game. This seems like a more reasonable form of regulation since it involves merely restricting it on the field and during media interactions.

Other than the fact that this sort of content regulation infringes on free speech, however, there is also an opportunistic nature to these rules, considering NFL teams use Twitter to announce updates on events and policies (draft picks were revealed through Twitter, for instance, and ironically, the Chargers scooped their first-round draft pick on the microblogging service). This gives the impression that teams and the organization simply want to cover up anything that might be harmful to the reputation of the organization.

The US Open jumped on the Twitter-regulation bandwagon last week, when it sent an email to all players with a list of dos and don'ts about the kinds of messages that cannot be tweeted. Apparently, the Tennis Integrity Unit is concerned that players might reveal sensitive information that could be potentially used for match fixing and sports betting - information like player injuries, weather conditions, etc.

Again, the US Open itself uses Twitter to promote matches, polls, contests, and even US Open gear. But it has no qualms about regulating what players tweet about. Like NFL players, many tennis stars--most notably, Andy Roddick, the Williams sisters, and Britain's Andy Murray--have taken to tweeting extensively. Both Roddick and Murray were outraged and outspoken about it.

Now, here's my shameless self plug: I wrote about this topic in some detail at the Huffington Post yesterday: do check it out if you can.