Cutler Case Proves Players Need to be Better Educated about Use of Social Media

National Football League players should now have a greater understanding of the impact of social media. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler certainly is aware of its effects.

In a story that has been well documented, Cutler suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of his team’s NFC Championship game against its long-time rival, the Green Bay Packers. Cutler started the third quarter but quickly exited and failed to play the remainder of the game.

Many of Cutler’s colleagues around the league watching the game on TV immediately grabbed their iPhones, iPads, and other devices and headed to Twitter, where they questioned his toughness, heart, desire, and just about everything else for not playing the rest of the game. Here’s a snippet of some of the tweets by NFL players:

“You dont not play in the NFC championship game cuz your knee hurt, only way I’d come out is if my knee is jus shattered” — Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks linebacker

“Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now… When the going gets tough……..QUIT.” — Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars running back

“All I’m saying is that he can finish the game with a hurt knee… I played the whole season on one.” —Jones-Drew

“Cutler u little siSsy…how does it feel that ur back up’s backup is the only 1that can put pts on the board!I bet cutler comes back now!” — Raheem Brock, Seattle Seahawks defensive end

“Cutler…wut a sissy! This is the NFC Championship game! Guaranteed if it was brett farve..he would still be in the game!” —Brock

“If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!” — Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman

After receiving backlash about his Twitter posts, and after it was revealed Cutler sprained his MCL in his knee, Jones-Drew tried to backtrack on his tweets, insinuating that they were taken out of context, as if there really is “context” in which tweets should be viewed.

With the exploding popularity of social media, players at both the professional and collegiate level need to be schooled on the ramifications of the tweet-what-you-think mentality. Players standing in front of a group of sports reporters generally would never say many of the things they tweet, yet what they post on Twitter is distributed to just as wide an audience — and it’s distributed immediately without filter.

Brad Schultz, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, editor of the Journal of Sports Media, and co-author of Media Relations in Sport, 3rd Edition, believes that players, and everyone in general, need to be better educated about how they use social media.

“The one thing we’re seeing not just in sports, but in all of our culture, is a lack of recognition of the power and immediacy of the social media,” Schultz said. “People will tweet or post, believing that they are just ‘ranting’ to a few friends. In fact, their comments reach a potentially global audience and have a real sense of permanence.”

Perhaps even more education provided to players by sports information specialists, coaches, administrators, or front office personnel is needed to better educate players about the ramifications of their social media use. But some schools, teams, and leagues are taking it a step further, and supervising, regulating, and sometimes banning players’ use of social media.

“Look at the trouble the North Carolina football program got in last fall when several players were suspended for inappropriate tweets,” Schultz said. “The school now has a coach whose duties include monitoring each player’s social media site and Twitter account. Obviously, it’s a different story in professional leagues, and while the NFL does have a policy in place, the situation needs to be more firmly addressed by individual teams.”

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