Tweet Ball: A Love Affair Between Sports and Twitter

By Beacon Staff

I don’t get Twitter in general. But I definitely don’t get its infusion into the sports world. Professional basketball players are posting Twitter comments at halftime. College players are posting the phone numbers of disruptive fans. People are posing as sports writers and athletes on Twitter. And now, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban has been fined $25,000 for criticizing referees through “tweets.”

It’s all weird stuff and hardly helpful in any way to the game, no matter what that game is. Without getting into the beaten-down debate over the impact (negative or positive?) of the blogosphere on sports and sports writing, it is worth noting that, for better or worse, notable athletic figures are finding ways to become increasingly more engaged with their fans – or in some cases, like in Cuban’s, with their adversaries.

Before Twitter, and even before Facebook and MySpace took off, athletes had discovered the possibilities of fan interaction through their personal Web sites. This trend continues today. LaDainian Tomlinson kept San Diego Chargers’ fans aware of his thoughts during several months of trade talks. Tiger Woods announced his decision to take time off from golf to have surgery on his knee. Curt Schilling has a popular and widely referenced personal blog.

So it makes sense that, as instant communication continues its ever-changing and often strange evolution on the Web, we would come to this: Shaquille O’Neal plotting to leave tidbits of useless information on his Twitter page during halftime of important late-season games. This isn’t a knock on Twitter or people who use it. It’s simply an observation on how the marriage of sports and technology has produced some unlikely children.

Many fans like it, of course, because they feel like they’re interacting with their favorite athletes. They get a glimpse into the minds of the stars. Athletes like it, because it’s quirky and fun. Not to mention, it’s yet another soapbox for them, one unfiltered and untouched by the media. It’s their own voice, without intrusion from journalists.

For my money, I think Twitter’s lifespan will be short-lived, unlike Facebook and MySpace. But what do I know? Either way, it will be interesting to see how it continues to infiltrate the sports arena, especially now that league officials are handing out Twitter fines. In Cuban’s case, it might be one soapbox too many for a man who never runs out of hot air.