NFL players continue postings to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other usual social media suspects, often to the chagrin of management both at the team and league level. Fans often want as much as they can get from players, but players are increasingly nervous about the reactions – as well as disciplinary action and fines – they may receive for saying anything unpleasant. But the rules are anything but clear.
A recent example is when the Miami Dolphins fined one of their linebackers for tweets about the NFL’s first openly gay (former) player, defensive lineman Michael Sam. Some players felt this type of team reaction will quash discussion about edgy topics. “They got fined, and that’s that person’s freedom of speech that they’re exercising. So things like that, I don’t think they should be fined” said Washington Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson. Social media guidelines in the NFL are determined at the team (not league) level, so there is much variation and room for interpretation in this still evolving area.
According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, however, social media postings should be accurate, professional, and aligned with the teams’ values. Additionally players should not reveal team strategy and tactics, the extent of injuries, or personal information about other players.
Even with this, Robinson noted that existing guidelines are unclear. Except that “You’re never right, no matter what, when it comes to politics, race or religion.” “And now it’s the new thing with gays” added Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
But what can and can’t be said? “There’s no determination point, there’s no line in the sand.” said Bradley Cicala of Terra Firma Sports Management, a firm that watches blogging and posting activities of college level players – before they enter the NFL.
Another new firm, Social Media Sports Management, advises players on how to use social media and not run afoul of management expectations. “There’s a fine line.” commented one coach. and a line that isn’t very clear.
And if there was not already enough scrutiny about this new form of correctness, the NFL is apparently recruiting for a “Director of Forensic Investigations,” to monitor and gather evidence on social media, computers, telephones and other devices.