Social Media Gives Athletes A Voice And An Ear

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

I Can’t Breathe

Arangure quote

 

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December is a time for social media reflection and prediction blog posts. Most read from the same premise, albeit with different words. Some, however, are worth the time to read. Take this one from Jorge Arangure Jr on VICE Sports on athletes finding their “social” voice. 

Back in October 2013, having seen the evolution of social media and the effect on sports, I decided to dig a little deeper with a series of social media q&a’s. I wanted to get perspectives from different people across the social media landscape. I interviewed people in Australia, the U.K., Canada and here in the U.S. They worked in digital media, sports writing, sports business, broadcasting and yes, even an athlete. Not just any athlete, but one who played at the highest level in soccer (football) – the Premier League. I interviewed Rohan Ricketts. 

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Rohan Ricketts is a former footballer with Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Arsenal and Toronto FC. Ricketts was part of my q&a series. I chose Ricketts because I observed his interaction with fans and media on Twitter. He didn’t talk down to people. He was engaging and interacting – he “got” it. 

One of the questions I asked (you can read the entire Q&A here) was about his outlook for social media in sports. Being as it was the last quarter of 2013, I suppose you can look at that as a prediction question. I didn’t mean it in that way, but rather, I wanted his perspective as an athlete. How athletes view social media isn’t always how marketers, fans or media view it. I thought he’d bring a fresh outlook.

And, he did.  

Social Media Q A With Rohan Ricketts   CadChica Sports

It was Ricketts who I thought of when I was reading that VICE Sports piece on Saturday. It was amazing to me how spot on Ricketts was. Whether it’s on social media or through a t-shirt, the social voice of athletes is on the rise. Are there “PR issues” that athletes need to be aware of, as Ricketts suggested? Yes. Right or wrong athletes who desire or have sponsorship dollars still need to be cognizant of what issues they weigh in on.

Along with giving athletes a voice, social media has given them an ear (so to speak). It’s an outlet they can access to “hear” what’s going on in the world. What is the hot topic. What is the outrage. It helps them become aware. Perhaps even validating their own thoughts and ideas on an issue. 

Does it empower them? Impossible to provide a blanket-answer for all athletes. But, it cannot be denied that for some, it does embolden them to take a stand.

Even a quiet one. 

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Video Makes the Twitter “Star”

Twitter video

Two thoughts crossed my path today. Two video thoughts and how it relates to Twitter, my most often used platform. They seem unrelated, but, yet, they’re along the same video path.

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Twitter’s Auto-play Dilemma

An Adweek article written by Garett Sloane today outlined a current issue being debated behind closed Twitter doors. It’s the dreaded “auto-play” feature.

The auto-play feature is not a foreign concept to Facebook/Instagram users. Ever scroll through your timeline and you suddenly hear a sound coming from your phone, tablet or desktop? Yes, that’s the dreaded auto-play video you just came across. While it is a feature that can be easily disabled on Facebook, it’s not as easy to do on Instagram.

Long-time Twitter users don’t always like changes to their Twitter-experience. Ask any sports journalist about “old TweetDeck” (before it was bought by Twitter) and you’re bound to hear a long, wistful sigh. [For those who didn’t have the privilege of old TweetDeck, it was the perfect third-party app for Twitter. Perfect. sigh] This year, we had buy buttons, mute buttons, tweet-sharing via DMs, tailored audience experiment (ugh), promoted tweets – if there’s a change to be made to increase users, Twitter will make it.

There are more changes to come.

But, the auto-play feature is a new one to me. Perhaps the biggest yet. As Sloane said in his Adweek piece, Twitter is playing catch-up in the video space. According to Sloane, Facebook is seeing tremendous growth in terms of videos being shown on a daily basis. Growth numbers that Twitter cannot begin to compete with in its current format. 

If the potential is there, then Twitter would be crazy not to test it out. As a long-time tweeter, I personally would hate the feature unless it can be easily disabled. Twitter is my news-feed. When a story breaks, I don’t need videos automatically playing while I’m trying to find information on it. That would be annoying. 

The crux of the matter is long-time users don’t always matter to Twitter. They don’t bring in the revenue like big-money brands. And, what brands want – they usually get.

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A Reporter’s Dream

Do you ever have a moment where you check Twitter and you see a tweet that resonates with you? That happened to me today. Unfortunately, the tweet has now been deleted (no idea why, either). But, through the magic that is Topsy, I found a retweet of it: 

Luckie tweet

 Mark S Luckie is the Manager of Journalism and News at Twitter. He posed the question with the hashtag, #TwitterWishList, asking journalists what Twitter tool they wished they had. It couldn’t be one that already existed and they just didn’t know about or have access to it. It had to be one that wasn’t created yet. 

Checking his @ mentions (like a good journalist), I saw this terrific one: 

Watermarking capabilities within Twitter itself would prevent the “stealing” of photos that is so prevalent today on the platform. A third-party app is required in order to watermark any photos you have taken, if you don’t want them used without your permission. A cumbersome task, let me tell you. 

I liked that idea…but I wanted more and tweeted as such: 

That’s my idea. Doing a live-video within a tweet. Call it Google+ Hangout meets Twitter. Sort of. I’ve done a Google+ Hangout on a live remote before. It’s not the easiest process to do a show that way, but it can be done. That’s the only way a simple journalist like me can do a video update currently. I have used an app called VoiceByte, but it’s a still image with audio only, not video. 

There are times when I’ve been at a game and thought, I wish I could do a live-update within Twitter itself. Twitter is where sports journalists are at. We share information and converse with each other, fans, teams, athletes – all through Twitter. It’s what has helped make Twitter what it is today. A live-update feature would be a natural fit. 

It doesn’t have to be a long video. A short, simple update is all it would take like what you see on a newscast. In sports terms, think of it like when ESPN or Fox cuts away to a sideline reporter during the game. They give a quick update on the team from the sidelines. Nothing fancy needed. Just straight and to the point. 

How great would that be for journalists covering a live event, whether it’s sports or some other news event? Journalists share events on Twitter as it is, why not add live-video capabilities too? 

Are there risks? Yes. There is the potential for it to be used in illicit or unsavory ways. Twitter would need to start slow with access for the feature. It shouldn’t make it available to the masses at first, if ever. Start with journalists. If they do that, I’d be more than happy to test it out for them. 

Hint, hint, Mr Luckie. 

For now, it’s only a wish. A #TwitterWishList.

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Final Thoughts: Twitter is second-fiddle to Facebook. There is no disputing that in terms of number of users globally. Whether their goal is to overtake Facebook or not, Twitter needs to keep evolving to satisfy shareholders and gain new users. Will either or both of these options improve the Twitter user’s experience? Maybe. Twitter’s bottom line? That’s a strong possibility. 

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Frustrating End to EWU Season

“I’m not supporting you next year.”

As I made my way back up to the press box near the end of the third quarter, I walked by a frustrated Eastern Washington Eagle fan at the top of the stairs. Those were his words. If looks could kill, his wife might be under arrest right about now. But, those words exemplified the frustration felt by many of the Eagle fans tonight. Another promising record-setting season ending far too soon for EWU as the Eagles fell 59-46 to the Illinois State Redbirds in an FCS quarterfinal game in Cheney, WA.

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Out-Of-Sync

The phrase constantly uttered in the press box tonight was “out-of-sync”. Eastern Washington’s offense didn’t look like the traditional offense Eagle fans were used to this season. Junior quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr, overthrowing receivers. Sophomore wide receiver, Cooper Kupp, dropping catchable passes. An Eastern defense unable to stop a high-octane Illinois State offense.

For most quarterbacks, tonight’s line – 25-44 passing for 425 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions – would equal a great game. Not tonight. And not against this Illinois State defense. The Redbird front seven kept Adams and the potent Eagle offense in check for most of the night. Of those 425 yards, 283 came in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over. Said Adams, “As a whole offense, we’ve definitely played better. I have to get the ball off quicker. You have to be on point against a team like this. You can’t make too many mistakes. I give credit to them. They’re a really good football team.”

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Asked if he felt like the offense was out-of-sync, Zach Hill (passing coordinator and quarterback coach) said, “There were a few things that we didn’t click on that sometimes we do. But, it felt a little choppy at times. Defensively, you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Illinois State. Their d-line did a pretty good job of getting to him (Adams) a little bit, flushing him from the pocket and having him make some throws on the run. Overall, it wasn’t anything they did to confuse us. It was just  a tight game.” Said Redbirds Head Coach, Brock Spack, “ We mixed our coverage a little bit. We mixed between four- and three-man rushes. We felt we had to execute better. They’re a great offense. Best offense we’ve seen all year – at least throwing the football they were very good.”

Illinois State was clicking on all cylinders on defense. The Redbirds limited Eastern to 95 yards net rushing. Sophomore wide receiver Cooper Kupp lead the way for the Eagles with 10 catches for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the big numbers for Kupp, the game was very much won in the trenches. Coach Spack: “We’re a pretty physical team. You have to be to be in the Missouri Valley – it’s the way our league is set up. It allows you to be ready for a game like this. Giving a boxing analogy, we kind of wanted to take the fight to the center of the ring. We felt we were heavy punchers and they were boxers so we wanted to take it to the middle of the ring and not the outside of the ring.”

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Dominating Performance

As bad as Eastern played, this game was really all about Illinois State. Nearly every facet of the game was dominated by the Redbirds.

The two-headed monster that is quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich gashed the Eagle defense at every opportunity. Behind an offensive line that averages over 300 lbs, Roberson and Coprich found “Red Sea-sized” holes in that Eastern Washington defense. In addition to Roberson’s record-setting night, Coprich rushed 30 times for 258 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a big 74-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter to answer a late EWU rally. Said Coach Spack, “Every game this season he’s been a tremendous player. He’s tough. He’s got great foot speed. He sees things that a lot of good backs don’t. I just hope the country got to see him. He’s deserving to be in Philadelphia (for the Walter Payton Award ceremony), if not this year then next year.”

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The Roberson-Coprich duo made for a long night for the Eastern defense including leading tackler and senior, Ronnie Hamlin. Said Hamlin, “They’re a really good offense. Our guys brought it to the table. There were just too many mistakes. If one guy misses a wrong read and it’s out of the gate with these guys because they are fast. They are a good team, and I am rooting for them.” Hamlin ended the night with 16 total tackles (12 solo) to finish his illustrious Eagle career with 473 tackles – a new Big Sky Conference record. He and the other seniors left an impact on this Eagle program. Coach Hill, “Ronnie is one of the players who is the heart of our defense and the heart of our team. He’s very quiet and reserved. He doesn’t need to be that motivational leader, but everyone respects how he plays the game and how he carries himself.”

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Scary Moment

In the fourth quarter, I usually head down to the field for some post-game photos and/or interviews. It was under ten minutes left to play when I stood up from my press box seat. When you’re in the press box, you can see the home team seats immediately below you. I noticed a group gathered together, but they weren’t focused on the game.

I suppose it wouldn’t have meant that much, but I saw one of the Eastern Washington players leaving the edge of the stands (still at field level). A player interacting with the fans in that way isn’t normal during the game. I stood there as play continued on the field. Something was up and I couldn’t move. The longer I stood there, the more active things became. Security and a state trooper were already on the scene. Next, an EWU trainer was called. With an ambulance on scene, the medics were called over. More help arrived on the scene. Everyone in the press box was focused on the stands.

Play was halted as emergency vehicles arrived via field level. Eastern Washington, as of press time, released this statement:

On behalf of the Eastern Washington University community, I send my heartfelt support to the student-athlete whose father suffered a medical emergency in the stands during the final minutes of Saturday’s football game in Cheney. Our thoughts are with the EWU student and his family during this very difficult time.

I also am grateful to local emergency responders who quickly attended to the patient and performed CPR before transporting him to a Spokane hospital.

EWU will not release the name or medical status of the individual involved without the consent of the family.

According to Sam Adams from local news outlet, KHQ/SWX: 

As of post time, we are still awaiting for the latest on Rodgers’ dad. Rodgers was informed by medical staff on hand – sprinting off the field before play resumed. A quick onside kick by the Eagles, recovered by the Redbirds, a few kneel downs and the game was over. After the game, Head Coach Beau Baldwin did not participate in the press conference:

When we know more, it will be updated on Twitter by various outlets, including the two gentlemen above. Prayers and thoughts to the Rodgers family. 

RELATED: Football finishes a distant second by John Blanchette, Spokesman-Review

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Moving Season

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The Illinois State Redbirds move on to the FCS semifinals for the first time since 1999. They will face #1 New Hampshire next Saturday for the right to play in the FCS championship game in Frisco, TX. For the Eastern Washington Eagles, it’s another day of moving off the field. No more practices or game film to watch for this season. Junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr will head to Philadelphia tomorrow for the Walter Payton Award ceremony. Plenty of holes to fill on this EWU roster. Not just starters, but depth as well. 

A tall task ahead for both teams, ableit, different paths. The Redbirds will be a tough out for New Hampshire or any team they face, if they make it to the finals. It should be a hard-fought, leave-it-all-on-the-field type of matchup. For Adams and the Eagles, it’s back to the drawing board…and an early off-season.

Plenty of time for Eagles fans’ frustration to subside.  IMG_2128

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Other Photos from the Day

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