When Did Pro Athletes Get So Thin-Skinned?

by Rob Lober

Maybe it’s because I’m 29 going on 75, but I just don’t get it.  I don’t understand Twitter.

Lately, I’ve been left scratching my head when it comes to the use of this social media tool by professional athletes.  I know, you’re famous so obviously everyone wants to follow you and read what you have to say about even the most mundane details of your life.  Thanks, I’ll pass.

More and more, athletes are using Twitter not only to let us know what they had for lunch, but to defend themselves against what they see as attacks from the media.

Last week, newly crowned US Open champion Rory McIlroy was playing in the second round of the Irish Open.  McIlroy was struggling and in the mind of BBC commentator Jay Townsend, he was also making some poor decisions.

On the air, Townsend said, “McIlroy’s course management was shocking.  It was some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under-10’s boys’ golf competition.”

McIlroy quickly responded via twitter, “shut up – You’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!”

Back in May, rumors were running wild about the Lakers interest in NBA All-Star Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.  Writers for the Orlando Sentinel covered the story and published a series of articles on Howard’s future with the Magic.  The big man took offense, also voicing his displeasure via twitter.

“Y does it seem like the writers of Orlando sentinel are tryna push me out of Orlando with dumb articles. It’s annoying. Can I enjoy my summer and get ready for next season in Orlando. Pls. Same thing u guys did to Shaq.”

Unfortunately, these athletes are falling victim to the same trend that has a grip on society.  Personal communication skills have been rendered almost useless by the emergence of Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging.  Why call someone when you can text?  Why carry on a conversation, when you can just write on a wall?  And why is there a need to man-up and work out a misunderstanding in person, when you can just shoot back with a tweet?

Maybe this is the old man in me coming out again, but would it have been asking too much for Dwight Howard to find one of the Sentinel’s reporters in the locker room and say, “Hey man, I have an issue with some of the articles you guys are writing.”?

Is it out of the realm of possibility for McIlroy to seek out Townsend and say, “Look Jay, I don’t think what you said is fair.”?  Settling disputes as grown men suddenly seems way too difficult when you can just hide behind a computer screen and have it out with 140 characters or less.  Sure, a face to face conversation might be uncomfortable but it would also earn you a lot more respect than a Twitter blast.

I wish I had more hope for the future of personal human interaction.

On the other side of this issue, you have the media and the analysts who make the comments that start these feuds.  I’m not about to blame these analysts because they get paid to be honest and give an opinion.  If that opinion happens to be critical, then so be it.  The worst commentators are those who continually state the obvious and heap praise on athletes and coaches as if they were on the payroll.

I have absolutely no problem with ESPN’s Merril Hoge calling out Tim Tebow earlier this week.  On SportsCenter, Hoge, a former Steelers running back, gave this critique of Tebow’s abilities. “He is awful as far as accuracy goes and what’s kind of even more disturbing, he’s probably worse moving and running around with the football and throwing than he is from the pocket.  Can you get better there? A little bit. If everything is perfect, the pocket, your feet are good, all your fundamentals come into place, the coverage is what you want it, you can be successful. But that doesn’t happen at the National Football League. Rarely does that happen.”

Isn’t honesty refreshing?  You don’t have to agree with Hoge or even like what he said, but the man is simply doing his job.

Not surprisingly, Tebow responded with a tweet.  To his credit, Tebow didn’t try to get even and only wrote, “Hey Merril…… ‘ppreciate that.”

Then the debate began.  Should Hoge be that critical?  That was a little harsh, don’t you think?  Is it okay for analysts to rip athletes?  YES!!! For the love of Howard Cosell, YES!!!  Watch the film, do the research, tell me what you think, stand behind it, and you’ve earned my respect.

Johnny Miller is one of the most polarizing commentators on television.  The NBC golf analyst has never been shy about speaking his mind.  In May at the Players Championship, Ian Poulter sprinted from the 17th green to the 18th tee box in order to try to finish his round before darkness put a stop to play.  Watching this scene unfold, Miller said, “I’m not sure about the etiquette of this.”

Naturally that warranted a snarky Twitter response from Poulter. “Johnny Miller is only giving me grief because he would have 4-putted the 17th green after a casual jog.”  Classy Ian, very classy.  Apparently, turning the other cheek, letting it go, or actually talking to Miller about it would have been too difficult.

I don’t always agree with Miller, but we need more commentators like him.  At this year’s US Open, Miller broke down the swing of defending champion Graeme McDowell. “He does not have a good swing, folks, I just want you to know.  If you were to pick that swing apart there are about five things he does that are not wonderful.”

Hearing something like that will snap you out of your Sunday afternoon couch coma.  Miller later apologized, but he didn’t need to.  Miller and his peers get paid to tell me the good, the bad, and everything in between at whatever event they’re covering.  Analysts need to be more honest, and athletes need to get tougher.  If you don’t like something that’s said, either ignore it and move on, or go to the source and have a man to man discussion.

Feel free to tweet all about the way you like your eggs for breakfast, but settle your disputes like an adult.




3 thoughts on “When Did Pro Athletes Get So Thin-Skinned?”

  1. I’m all for athletes speaking their minds, but we can all agree McIlroy handled that situation poorly. You’re “a failed golfer” is a childish, personal attack. Does that mean the only people who can broadcast golf events are Nicklaus, Tiger, Watson, Trevino, Mickelson and Faldo? On the other hand, keep in mind McIlroy was probably 21 years old when he tweeted that. Remember the stupid decisions you made at 21.

  2. I can’t decide what I think about this issue. On the one hand, I agree with the “if you have a problem with me, come and speak with me in private and work it out.” On the other hand, sports commentators are the voice for the broadcast media group that hired them, and if their distribution is large, it makes it a bit unequal for an athlete NOT to respond back. The athlete has just never really had the venue before…he/she couldn’t CALL all their fans or those interested in their sport; they couldn’t e-mail them…so, in a way, I think it’s good because all of the sudden the commentators are getting back what they’ve been hired to give. I don’t know if it’s unprofessional – – the sportscaster is doing his job, and the athlete is being human. Hmm…

    1. I agree to some extent…the athlete is being human and never before have athletes had this kind of forum to respond to critics. I also tend to agree that if broadcasters are going to dish it out, they have to be able to take it as well. However, despite some good intentions by the athletes, I think they come off looking childish and kind of petty when they respond the way Rory McIlroy did to the golf commentator. My larger point is that things like Twitter and Facebook are limiting the necessity for us to have a real dialogue as one person to another. If an analyst makes a controversial comment, he or she should be held accountable for that and should have to answer for that statement. If athletes want to be taken seriously they should use social media for personal updates and light-hearted issues. It’s not meant to start feuds.

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