In a new age of media and technology, professional athletes are under more pressure and are more accessible to the public than ever before. Players may soon need to choose between accepting the pitfalls that come with participating in social media, and removing themselves from the equation all together. The world is watching, and that’s the new normal.
“Your a joke.”
Those words are probably not what Arrowhead Pride manager Joel Thorman, expected to read from Kansas City Chiefs CB Javier Arenas last Saturday night.
But that’s what happened.
Arenas lashed out at Thorman via Twitter, calling the respected Chiefs blogger a “goofball” and a “joke.”
Here is the tweet:
@joelthorman im baffled by goofballs such as yourself who write and report as if you know what the hell your talking about. Your a joke
— Javier Arenas (@JavierArenas21) March 9, 2013
Thorman believes Arenas is referencing a March 6th column posted on Arrowhead Pride, concerning the Chiefs’ top positional needs entering free agency. Thorman wrote:
Clearly, the Chiefs need another cornerback opposite Brandon Flowers, and preferably a day-one starter. Javier Arenas and Jalil Brown won’t cut it over the entire season. Considering some of the cornerbacks Reid had in Philly over the years it’s hard to see how the Chiefs would go into next season with their other cornerback spot the way it is. I expect that to get addressed.
Arenas played both as a nickel corner and a starting outside corner for the Chiefs last year. Most of his action on the outside came after the Chiefs cut former Oakland Raiders CB Stanford Routt. According to Pro Football Focus, Arenas was targeted 66 times on the season, allowing 43 receptions for 539 yards, four TDs, zero interceptions and six pass defenses. QB’s throwing at Arenas enjoyed a QB rating of 110.6. Those numbers hardly cemented his role as a starter opposite Flowers.
On Friday evening, March 8th, reports emerged that the Chiefs reached a deal with former Atlanta Falcons CB Dunta Robinson. While the team has yet to confirm the signing as of this writing, the deal would seem to indicate that Chiefs, at least in part, agree with Thorman’s assessment of the CB situation.
Some might argue that if it is fair for sports writers to criticize a players work on the field, it should be fair for the players to criticize the writers. In this situation, however, turnabout was not fair play. Thorman gets paid to express his opinions on the Chiefs and that is what he did here. Arenas’ criticism of Thorman was personal.
Arrowhead Pride, like this site, is part of a growing form of new media. Blog networks like SB Nation and FanSided provide a platform for fans come together and express their opinions on their favorite sports teams, offering a level of fan-empowerment that didn’t exist in the newspaper age. Perhaps what Arenas doesn’t realize is that along with being a member of the media, Thorman is also a fan. And much like Chiefs fans did not appreciate receiving a lecture from RT Eric Winston following a game in 2012 in which QB Matt Cassel suffered a concussion, Arrowhead Pride readers defended Thorman to Arenas on Twitter.
— T.J. Breese (@tbreese630) March 9, 2013
— sportsfan956 (@sportsfan956) March 9, 2013
— Michael (@chiefsstl) March 9, 2013
While changes were expected to be made on the personnel side by the new regime in Kansas City, GM John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid have largely kept the band together. The Chiefs re-signed core players like WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt. They also used the franchise tag retain the services of LT Branden Albert.
Still, Dorsey and Reid aren’t going to turn around a 2-14 team by leaving everything the same. A couple recent moves, like the releases of TE Kevin Boss and WR Steve Breaston, caused only minor waves while some other changes appear to be causing some stress and anxiety for some of the players still on the roster.
One such move was the release of Winston, which happened earlier this week. Winston’s departure caused many fans and media alike to question what the Chiefs were planning to do at the tackle position.
The evening of Winston’s release, some fans reached out to Albert via Twitter. The former first-round pick was asked if he would consider moving to RT to replace Winston, should the Chiefs select Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel, in the 2013 NFL Draft. Albert, who has faced similar questions about moving positions since entering the league, seemed spooked and annoyed by Winston’s departure, and responded “No way.” When asked if he felt he was a natural left tackle, Albert tweeted “”You damn right.”
Just hours later, Albert deleted his Twitter account.
Perhaps the same stress and uncertainty the cutting of Winston caused in Albert was being felt Saturday by Arenas in the wake of the Robinson signing. After all, it was former GM Scott Pioli who drafted Arenas, not Reid and Dorsey. The new regime has no ties to the players who were on the roster when they arrived and more changes are sure to be on the horizon.
It would be a mistake not to take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of the situation. Professional athletes are under a severe amount of scrutiny. While it is the job of some media folks to register opinions and commentary on the job performance of these athletes, it is easy to see why players like Arena and Albert might feel defensive, even when faced with the mildest of criticism. And while part of the job description for being a professional football player is maintaining a respectful relationship with the press, the rapidly changing world of sports media, and in particular, online sports media, is making the delineation of who is and isn’t considered press much harder to determine.
Perhaps part of the reason Arenas received so much backlash from Chiefs fans for his comments to Thorman is because Arrowhead Pride’s readers have a much better understanding of this new age of sports media than Arenas himself. Arrowhead Pride is a fan blog that has never claimed any impartiality in its content. The site has always strived to be fair but never impartial. Impartiality is the exact opposite of what fan-powered blog networks like SB Nation and FanSided strive for.
While not impartial, Thorman is a credentialed member of the Kansas City media. He sits in the press box on Sundays and after games he is given access to the locker room. Would Arenas have made the same comment to Chiefs beat reporter for the Kansas City Star, Adam Teicher, if Teicher released a column similar to Thorman’s? Perhaps, but I’m not so sure.
A site like Arrowhead Pride has a much deeper connection to Chiefs fans than the Kansas City Star. Thus to readers of Pride, Arena’s comments to Thorman seemed more like a pro athlete picking on the little guy rather than a professional member of the tradional sports media. What Arenas may not understand is that Thorman is both.
It isn’t just bloggers and members of new sports media that are under fire. We’re seeing these tensions continue to bubble, as Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman recently had a very uncomfortable exchange with ESPN provocateur, Skip Bayless. The exchange was picked up by just about every sports media outlet out there and, quite frankly, was embarrassing for both Sherman and Bayless.
While tension between professional athletes and the people who cover them is nothing new, platforms like Twitter make the escalation of those tensions easier than ever before. Social media is breaking down the walls that once separated fans and media from professional athletes. I follow a number of Chiefs players on Twitter and I often see them subjected to such horrible and insulting tweets and comments from fans that it is easy to sympathize when one of them loses their cool and responds.
At the NFL’s 2011 Rookie Symposium, former Chiefs and Jets coach and current ESPN analyst, Herm Edwards, gave to a group of incoming players a sermon of sorts, about some of the traps and pitfalls of life in the NFL. When talking about NFL players interacting on social media, Edwards delivered a very simple message to encourage rookies to think before saying anything publicly.
“Don’t press send,” Edwards urged.
With the lines between fans, media and the players blurred more than ever before, it might be more advantageous for athletes to take Edwards’ advice a step further and do what Brenden Albert did.
Delete their social media accounts all together and save it for the press conference.