Last week the New York Knicks only played two games in seven days, but it still was a busy one for their increasingly voluminous bad press department. Unfortunately most of those headlines weren’t about things happening on the floor. Instead it was the action taking place on social media that garnered the most attention.
When the Knicks cut Chris Smith, Twitter exploded in glee with many fans not making any effort to hide their disdain of the entire charade to begin with. J.R. Smith, a notorious tweeter, took most of the criticism due to today’s ability for fans to spout off their anger with a player pretty directly from their phone in just 140 characters. We all know what happened next. JR saw it fit to take to Twitter to post a photo suggesting he was betrayed. What after that was logical. Befuddled and enraged by JR’s lack of maturity, fans let their feelings known by flooding his Twitter account with hundreds of irate responses. Some of them were satirical, as I think mine was, many were fair critiques, but some were just plain hateful.
A few days later, an already mired Carmelo Anthony put the horrible season aside to wish fans a Happy New Year’s and announce a giveaway contest to win a pair of his new M10 sneakers. One of the first responses to his holiday greeting was a fan who felt it was the perfect opportunity to chide him for being a personal disappointment. Instead of ignoring a message like this, as he’s probably been conditioned to do after every bad loss, Melo lashed out with one of the year’s more creative insults. The fan seemed to be taken aback by Melo’s sharp return of words, and seemed to paint himself as a victim.
These two incidents represent the best and worst of what social media has done to the lines that used to separate fans and athletes. Ever since Gladiators fought for their lives in front of hundreds of blood thirsty spectators, there was always an unmistakable boundary that kept fans at bay from the action. It was understood that while athletes performed for the appeasement of the mob, individually, there was no one watching that had the athletic ability and prowess of those performing. This code has largely been kept intact centuries later, but in today’s era those boundaries have largely been trampled over with the constant connection of services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Social Media can make many people of all ages forget that the people that are being interacted with aren’t just some dude on the web. These are professional athletes, but they are still human beings. Passionate fans have always expressed their scorn with players, but it’s never been done in the way it does today. Public Figures or not, the human brain isn’t conditioned to receive a constant feed of negativity in the way Twitter allows, so when players snap or do something stupid on social media, it’s not entirely fair to point fingers at them without looking in the mirror first.
Twitter can still be a powerful tool to bring fans and athletes closer together when used the right way though. Here’s a quick example of something that happened to me. Last Thursday during the Spurs game when Clyde Frazier mistakenly called Toure’ Murry “Tracy Murray” I immediately took some delight in posting a picture of Tracy Murray with the caption “Put me in coach” It was the kind of mindless hijinks web meme culture always enjoys but I wasn’t counting on the actually Tracy Murray to respond to me and other fans who took pleasure in waxing poetic on 90s basketball players.
Instead of being offended by anything, Murray took the opportunity to join in on the memories and shared his own thoughts on things like his iconic 50 point game, the difference between yesterday’s players with today’s, and even made reference to how proud he was of being the cousin of one of the most classiest players ever to wear a Knick uniform: Allan Houston. Murray revealed his post basketball career in going back to school to study history and do broadcasting for UCLA, all fine examples of how athletes can serve as role models to others after their playing days are over.
My brief tweeting with Murray wasn’t a full-fledged conversation, but I came away with even more respect and admiration for a player I remember fondly during the 90s. Thanks to a platform like Twitter, and of course civil conversation born out of mutual respect a player has for a fan, and vice-versa, this is how social media can also be used instead of just being an inane receptacle to store vile tirades that often reveal more about the fan that it does about the player.
I’m not defending any of JR’s mindless tweets or Melo’s outburst, but as lovers of the game, I think we should hold ourselves to a higher level. Each fan represents a fan base and when fans spew out the hurtful things they do at players, there is no doubt that player’s larger relationship with fans is being chipped at to some degree. It’s okay to criticize players. It’s part of their job to be able to deal with that, but fans also have a responsibility to conduct themselves with class because regardless if they are public figures, they are still human beings with emotions as wild as the ones fans exhibit.