Few Twitter benefits for professional athletes

As Tampa Bay Lighting goaltender Dan Ellis tried last Wednesday to hose down the the fires he unexpectedly set off with a few innocent Twitter posts, one question kept coming back to me. Why?

Few Twitter benefits for professional athletes
Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators scores during the shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)


As Tampa Bay Lighting goaltender Dan Ellis tried last Wednesday to hose down the the fires he unexpectedly set off with a few innocent Twitter posts, one question kept coming back to me.

Why?

Why would a multi-millionaire athlete establishing himself with a new franchise in sunny Florida want to open the Pandora’s Box that is Twitter? What is the benefit to him?

It’s something Ellis is probably asking himself today after daring to raise the issue of professional athletes’ compensation, even if it was (he says) in a joking manner.

A quick recap: Ellis, who signed with the Lightning over the summer after getting pushed out of the No. 1 job in Nashville by Pekka Rinne, earlier this week tweeted a response to New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush, who was complaining about some of the issues that could lead to an NFL lockout next season.

Ellis talked about how onerous the NHL escrow is and, in one particularly startling post, wrote: “If you lost 18% of your income would you be happy? I can honestly say I am more stressed about money now than when I was in college.”

That line alone leads me to believe he was joking because, as a simple pleb who had to dig his way out from under a pile of student loans on slightly less than the $1.5 million Ellis is scheduled to make this season, I know how stressful paying for school can be.

You can guess what happened next. Steamroller, meet Dan Ellis. Twitterites (if that’s not a word, I’m making it one), scorched him with hundreds of flaming text arrows. Spoiled. Out of touch. Delusional. Greedy. Etc. Etc. Etc. The uproar also started a hashtag trend #DanEllisProblems, which led to untold hilarity. Example: @uzworm Just short of enough money to complete my collection of Ferraris in every color of the rainbow. I’ll wait for you, Indigo! #DanEllisProblems.

Funny. I can support funny…if Dan Ellis can joke around, so can everyone else.

There was clearly much more hate than hahas, however. Eventually, and predictably, the maligned netminder couldn’t take the heat anymore. He quit Twitter last night.

This morning, he is no doubt wishing he’d never joined. His story is a cautionary tale to any professional athlete who thinks he can…what? Boost his brand? Have a personal relationship with fans? Get endorsements?

At the end of the day, an athlete is more likely to put the endorsements he or she already has at risk rather than build on them, because said athlete is in constant peril of overreaction by oversensitive Twitterites.

There are several reasons for that. If you have the time, head over to the National Post and read this column by Robert Fulford on the roots of the modern star machine. It essentially asks why our society is so celeb-obsessed, and argues for this answer:

“My theory is that celebrities play a crucial role in our collective emotional lives by committing acts that the rest of us can view with disapproval.”

We love to judge people and we love to jump on their missteps. We love to rip them down as quickly as we raise them up. Guaranteed that a couple weeks ago, many of the people who are shredding Dan Ellis were telling their friends to follow him because he’s being “real.”

Except there should have been a caveat: Be real man, just not too real. Oh yeah, and don’t bother trying to be funny or nuanced either. 140 characters don’t leave much room for context.

And let’s face it, part of this is probably jealousy too. Any survey will tell you most people hate their jobs, if they even have one in this economy. Dan Ellis’s “job” is to play hockey, which we all love. Any survey will tell you the No. 1 stressor for most people is money. Dan Ellis has a lot of money.

These underlying issues create a tinderbox, so why would pro athletes run towards it with a handful of lit matches? One impulsive thought can lead to all this. I mean, there is a little merit to the argument that fringe guys can use it to get some more attention and maybe a contract, but they don’t have nearly as much to lose.

Twitter is just dangerous to the modern athlete. Outside of the cocoon of the locker room, they have no filter and no help. There are no press guys hanging over their shoulders, making sure they don’t embarrass the team. There are no agents reminding them to stay out of trouble.

Have you ever wanted to fire off an angry, sarcastic, impulsive e-mail to someone on a whim, then cooled off long enough to stop yourself? Twitter is all impulse. I had a thought, I tweeted it. Cue ****-storm.

There are many more examples of athletes (and others) getting in trouble over Twitter antics and each and every one of them is a warning. Maybe that’s part of the growing pains people are experiencing while they learn to use the medium, like when you heard all those stories about people posting Facebook pics while getting hammered in their work uniforms, or telling their bosses to shove it when they have an open profile.

Let me be clear — I’m not saying I don’t enjoy following athletes on Twitter. I do. After the tenth time hearing “we just have to keep playing as a team” or “we just need to keep doing the little things” in the locker room, I want to dig out my ear drums with sharp instrument.

I just can’t find any reason I would be on it if I was in Dan Ellis’s shoes.

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