I originally started writing a post on how individuals (more specifically, athletes) interact with social media. I wanted to illustrate examples of how social media can help build an athlete’s image in a positive way, as well as affect it in a negative one. The post was going to be entitled "Social Media: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly". However, in light of everything that the NFL and NCAA are going through in regards to bad press, I thought we could briefly focus on something a little different -- how social media and the PR that it produces have recently, more-or-less, forced teams to become more accountable for their players' actions.
In the last few weeks and months we've seen the NFL, and football in general, develop a black eye in regards to both how some players conduct themselves and how they have dealt with off-field issues relating to domestic violence and abuse. Recently we've all heard about the exploits of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and to a lesser degree, Jonathan Dwyer, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and Quincy Enunwa. We've also recently seen similar issues present themselves throughout the NCAA. For example, FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has experienced a laundry list of issues stretching from allegations of sexual assault to theft to yelling obscene things to women on FSU's campus.
What sparked my interest in several of these cases, most notably with Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Jameis Winston, is the role that social media had in influencing their respective organizations and universities to be more accountable. And by accountable I mean how social media has seemingly had a direct effect on the suspensions and punishments doled out. What is important to note is how these suspensions and punishments changed to become stricter and harsher after public outrage at the seemingly small consequences that had been handed out -- most often social media being the channel in which this outrage was and is being spread.
We saw the Baltimore Ravens decide to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely, the Minnesota Vikings suspend Adrian Peterson, and the Flordia State Seminoles increase a half-game suspension of quarterback Jameis Winston to a full game for remarks he made to a woman on FSU's campus. Yes, there is a possibility that these decisions would have occurred regardless of the pressure that came out of social .media. However, I have the inkling that many of these teams’ positions were forced either as a result of the negative reactions to the minimal punishments or were the result of preemptiveaction tken to avoid the PR firestorm that they anticipated would have occurred had little to nothing have been done in response to these allegations. The Ray Rice suspension appeared to be reactionary, the Adrian Peterson back-and-forth suspension seemed reactionary, as did the Jameis Winston single-game suspension.
At the end of the day it's difficult to make decisions on matters concerning players, especially marquee ones due to the revenue they generate. Regardless, it's interesting to be living in a period where you can see the world around you evolving and noticeably changing every few weeks. It seems like there's a new channel or new feature to engage with every few weeks. This post was supposed to be how it surprised me to see individuals negatively affecting their personal brands -- now it's the realization that social media has the power to affect the decisions major organizations and institutions make in order to protect their brands.
In retrospect, retaining the title for this post of "The Good, The Bad, and Ugly" probably applies nearly as well. Despite the flak that social media takes in popular culture at times, and despite whether or not people or teams would still be held to the same accountability without it, how interesting it is to see the power of crowds affecting significant change.
Next time you post something to social media, "you've got to ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"