For Tweet’s sake

Emmanuel Frimpong has been charged by the FA with improper conduct following a comment he made on Twitter.

This would be shocking if it were the first transgression by a sports personality on a social media site. It’s pointless listing them all, but making statements in poor taste is quite commonplace among celebrities with an online presence. And this isn’t the first Arsenal faux-pas.

As a child, we’re taught not to run with scissors. We’re told how to hold a pencil so as to not poke our eye out. We’re instructed on hundreds of situations that are potentially damaging to our health, and how to avoid those dangers. We learn. It would seem that many athletes – or celebrities as it’s not limited to the sporting world – didn’t learn a lot when it comes to not doing stupid things. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are celebrities with few cares in the world that means there’s a lack of responsibility, or a complete disregard for something we mere mortals call reality.

On my smartphone is an app called Banter. With it, it’s possible to read all of the latest Tweets from footballers. For a week or so, it was quite amusing seeing the comments. They ranged from the inane to the profane, the dull to the dangerous. But, after a while, there was a realization that there really wasn’t a great deal of substance in those short messages that was actually worth reading.  Of course, there are exceptions. Some of the tweeters seem grounded in reality. They put up informative information, photos, videos, and insight. But they are very few and far between.

It begs the question – who follows these players and why? Is it because it makes us feel somewhat closer to our heroes? Or that we love our team so much that it’s a requirement? We’ve often heard how football players are role models. Reading their tweets, let us hope that the next generation does not want to emulate them. There are many role models out there, even in the football world. There are players, coaches, managers, and others associated with the game who are genuinely caring and/or intelligent people. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t on these social media sites. Every season, we hear of the heartbreaking incidents, the uplifting stories and the acts of generosity that bring a lump to the throat. And when something like that happens – for example the tragic story with a happy ending with Fabrice Muamba – it’s everywhere, including on Twitter. For a while. Although there’s nothing insightful about the comments.

On Twitter, the information is incessant. I genuinely feel bad for the journalists that have to sift through the billions of bleats to find either genuine nuggets of information, or newsworthy examples of crass stupidity. The former is good for a paragraph, the latter for the front page. And that’s because we love nothing more than seeing people self-destruct and creating a controversy. With news that the Premier League is issuing “guidelines” for players using Twitter and other social media, we’re left to wonder if it will actually make any difference. After all, there seems to be a general attitude of indifference when it comes to rules – just look at the way the Laws of the Game are roundly ignored.

Anyone who did ignore their mother’s advice and trip while holding scissors the ‘wrong way’ would surely have learned the hard way and not repeated the mistake. But there are some things we know are not really bright. Most of us manage to avoid them. Others are drawn to the dark side and play with fire anyway. Professional footballers have the tools at their fingertips and take the bait by signing up for Twitter accounts. Most of them are harmless, although uninteresting. It’s the few that don’t know better that put their foot in it. Some clubs have banned their players from putting themselves in the position of potentially making fools of themselves. And it does make sense. Emmanuel Frimpong may have been simply naïve. He may have made a mistake. He may have just not been thinking. But the best way to not get caught shoplifting is to not do it in the first place.

So it is with Twitter. It has its place, and it can be useful. Handled wrongly, it won’t put your eye out, but it can sure make life unnecessarily uncomfortable. People won’t wait any more; they react instantly. And once it’s been said, it’s there for all to see forever.

Frimpong’s comments will be forgotten, he’ll move on, as will the game. But will he – and others – actually learn anything? I think we all know the answer to that, and it doesn’t take 140 characters, just two.

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