Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Athletes and Social Media

More and more athletes are trying to brand themselves.  The best example of these remains Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals.  Releasing video games, having TV shows, being in commercials, and having a strong presence on the internet are vital to his lasting beyond his time on the football field.  Most athletes are trying to emulate Ocho, but to what success?

Rashard Mendenhall
While Ocho may be the best example, parlaying his social networking status and football celebrity into career expanding moves on the dance floor in Dancing with the Stars, there are others who use social networking for other purposes, all of which contribute to the branding of their person.  Some land on their feet, others completely miss the mark.

Perhaps the most recent, and well known, example of an athlete going overboard on their social networking feed is from Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.  He calls himself "a conversationalist and a professional athlete" on his Twitter page.  It was that page that recently caused an uproar when he made the following comments following the death of Osama bin Laden:

For an otherwise intelligent person, an honor role student in high school who did well at Illinois, to make these remarks seems out of place.  He claims to be a conversationalist, but there's a point where conversation become controversy and that harms your future and Mendenhall may have crossed that line.  While he has since released a clarification on his comments, it's likely too little too late.

The fact is that professional sports athletes have short shelf lives.  When the life of your career, no matter how much money you made during your time on the turf/ice/hardwood, is a tiny fraction of your life you need to worry about how the public looks at you.  After retirement your pension, should you earn it, only goes so far.  Business deals can happen but they can also fail.  Endorsements dry up.

Santonio Holmes
Having a mark of controversy, no matter how minor, can make it near impossible for you to have a future.  For a smart gentleman, Mendenhall stepped out of line.  It's his every right to do so as an American.  The Constitution provides you with freedom of speech.  What it does not provide you is freedom from judgement.  In seeming to defend bin Laden and question the validity of what killed thousands of Americans Mendenhall may have forever harmed his earning ability beyond the game, or even his career in current.

While Ochocinco may be mocked for his antics, on and off the field, his approach is correct.  He's light, airy, rarely controversial.  He appeals to the masses.  He may seem like a fool to some but make no mistake, the man is smart.  He knows how to broaden his appeal to the masses.  He knows how to make his proverbial "fifteen minutes" last beyond the time his alarm has gone off.

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook can be invaluable to athletes for their future, but when abused by the likes of Mendenall or New York Jet receiver Santonio Holmes they can do harm to the person that may be irreversible.  For Holmes it meant a trade from the team that drafted him.  For Mendenhall the effects are yet to be known.  He would be wise, though, to reach out to Ochocinco for advice on how to run his brand.
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