Monday’s big news of 34-year old professional basketball player Jason Collins announcing he was gay created an interesting bet. Who would be the first pro athlete to write something homophobic on Twitter after the news broke? Well, it didn’t take long to find a winner! Within about an hour, Mike Wallace, the newly acquired wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins who just signed a $60M contract, was the first to lend his insight into the rather historic announcement:
Frankly, I don’t the tweet as being “that bad,” but of course the media wants to find something to play up the story and decipher exactly how an openly gay athlete will be treated by his peers. Soon, the Wallace tweet was all over the major news sites as a perfect vehicle to say that “not all athletes are ready for a gay teammate.” Of course, what happened next was standard practice: the tweet was deleted, Wallace was forced to issue an apology, and the Miami Dolphins then had to issue a statement condemning the opinions of Mike Wallace:
“Mike Wallace has apologized for his comments, and we have addressed the matter with him. Mike’s comments do not reflect the views of the Miami Dolphins. We believe in a culture of inclusiveness and respect, and any statements to the contrary are in no way acceptable to our organization.”
Now because of Wallace attempting to either make a joke, kiss up to women, or just be ignorant, he will be labeled as a homophobe and will have to answer endless questions from reporters about the statement. Was it really worth it?
Obviously Twitter has created a medium in which famous people can interact directly with their fans. As of today, Lady Gaga has nearly 37 million followers, and the platform could be used for her stance on anti-bullying, to promote a concert, etc. So there are positives out there for a person with fame to communicate with their followers.
However, for a professional athlete, I frankly don’t see the appeal. Whereas Lady Gaga may be communicating in an effort to either shill tickets or CDs, what is there to gain for a pro athlete? They have a contract in which they get paid a salary by the said organization who employs them, regardless of how many tickets are sold for this weekend’s game. Also, along those same lines, they are not an independent contractor per se, like a musician; rather, they have to answer to a boss. Which is exactly what we saw with Wallace being chastised by Dolphins brass for his big mouth.
I’m not condemning our first amendment right of freedom of speech by any means, but you have to weigh the positives and negatives of your actions. While folks like Tiger Woods or LeBron James make far more money through endorsements than what they earn on their respective playing field, they are the exception and not the rule. There’s probably less than 5% of athletes in the three major sports that have a six figure income from endorsements, while the average salary for an NFL player is $1.9M, Major League Baseball $3.4M, and the NBA checks in at $5.1M. Although baseball and basketball contracts are guaranteed, the NFL reserves the right to release a player for any reason whatsoever. Is putting yourself on a platform like Twitter that requires offers no buffer the best choice when it could jeopardize your current contract or your ability to sign another contract?
There are plenty of athletes out there who use their notoriety and their Twitter followers to generate interest in charitable endeavors. As an example, Boston Celtic Paul Pierce uses social media to pass along information about the charities that he is involved in, but more times than not, it is someone like Alameda Ta’amu, who is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ta’amu was caught driving drunk and attempting to flee police in October, and was let off the hook with only 18 months probation. During the first week of April, he decided it would be a good idea to tweet out the below photo, which shows him driving around while his buddy is posing with a bottle of alcohol.
Like clockwork, the tweet was then deleted and Ta’amu explained it was an old photo that was sent out by accident.
I know this may seem over the top, but if I were an agent of a professional athlete, I would require that all tweets sent out are reviewed by myself or someone at my office. There is simply too much of a risk to the downside in our politically sensitive society to put yourself in a situation where you could lose your livelihood. The same standards should hold true for the other 99.9% of us out there who are not a professional athlete. While we don’t have the luxury of an agent reviewing each of our tweets, each item put out there on the web for the world to see should be looked at twice before hitting that ‘post’ button. What you may think is funny at the time could backfire and ruin your reputation for good.