Fines for tweets set a double standard

Tommy Collins

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Athletes are embracing Twitter like nobody else. They do so because Twitter offers a more direct way to interact with fans than ever before.

It seems obvious, however, that tweeting during competition is a distraction for the player and a detriment to the overall performance of the team.

If professional sports today were about achieving the highest level of performance possible, then tweeting in competition should be against the rules. Professional sports are not, though, just about the game; rather, they are a business where the priority is profit.

Many coaches and teams have made headlines recently for issuing fines to players who Tweet during games, stating that it is a clear distraction. Charlie Villanueva of the Milwaukee Bucks was punished for Tweeting at halftime against the Boston Celtics March 15.

“…[A]nything that gives the impression that we’re not serious and focused at all times is not the correct way we want to go about our business,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.

If the reasoning is that tweeting is a distraction, then that makes perfect sense. But how is that any different from in-game interviews of coaches and players adopted by a few of the major networks and mandated by the National Basketball Association? Or asking a player or coach to wear a wire so the fans can hear on TV? Answering questions on national television in front of a camera is definitely as distracting as sending a tweet from a cell phone in the locker room.

Both tweeting and things like in-game interviews offer fans a more interactive experience with the athletes and coaches. They are both encroachments on the game for the sake of creating a better product for the fans. The difference between the two is that the networks and owners do not make money off of the tweets.

The leagues are quick to adopt new ways to make their product more appealing to the fans if they can financially capitalize on it. When players attempt to do the same thing by connecting directly with the fans, but without going through a sponsor or major network, sanctions are imposed to stop it, often behind the justified rationale that it is a distraction.

Professional sports are a display of the best of what humans can do athletically, and consumers pay to see it. If the priority is to produce the highest quality athletic display that is humanly possible, then tweeting during competition should not be allowed, and neither should in game interviews.

But that isn’t what the owners see as the priority. Their priority is profit. Mandating interactivity on one hand and punishing it on the other is hypocritical and sets up a double standard.