Cutler criticism, Packer photo incident show social media's hand in generating stories

I clearly remember the day Jay Cutler was traded from the Broncos to the Bears. I was actually in Chicago at the time and, as a Packer fan, the whole scene made me quite nervous. The next day, a friend and fellow fan of an NFC North team told me we'd despise having him in the division for the next decade and a good chunk of our adult lives. He was right.

On the day after my Packers advanced to their first Super Bowl since I was rocking a Starter jacket, Cutler dominated the national conversation—not for his play, but for his pension for criticism and disapproval. As everyone is well aware, Cutler took a good deal of heat from his peers on Twitter for not finishing the NFC Championship.

Then, later in the week, Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley and inside linebacker Nick Barnett generated a national story when they voiced their frustration with not being allowed in the team's Super Bowl photo, due to the fact that they were placed on injured reserve earlier in the season. The issue was eventually resolved, but not before causing a stir.

It's odd; just as seeing your team go to the Super Bowl generates a bit of disbelief, watching reporters chase down stories triggered by athletes randomly spouting off on the web causes a bit of a "Seriously? This is reality?" type reaction as well.

To clarify, I'm not against it. Sports reporters utilizing Twitter in the line of work has not only become a necessity for tracking story ideas and prominent developments, but also brings the beat-writers closer to their readers.

That said, Dan Wetzel had some excellent commentary on the subject earlier this week. Some excerpts:

Never before, have we had such raw and direct access to the real-time thoughts of NFL players. After decades of listening to athletes claim fans and media are too rough, it turns out we’ve got nothing on them in the venom department. Accurate or not, what they did to Jay Cutler was straight up cold.

The twirling twitter feeds of Sunday afternoon changed the story dramatically. You can lament that in our instant gratification world things like facts, perspective and patience have died. That’s true.

It isn’t going away though. You might as well accept it. This is the start of the new normal. Until the next new normal, which isn’t likely to slow down or soften the commentary.

Even two years ago, Cutler and the Bears would’ve at least had until the postgame media session to explain the injury and circumstances around the benching. Questions would’ve been asked, some fans still would’ve been angry and perhaps a columnist would’ve ripped away. It wouldn’t have gone down like this though. Time and facts would’ve lessened the heat of the moment.

The questions by reporters were more aggressive than they would’ve been pre-twitter because journalists could lean on the opinion of NFL players to frame things. No sports reporter is going to toe-to-toe in a debate with Brian Urlacher(notes) on the toughness of a player unless he can cite Jones-Drew, Sanders and the others.

Fair point but that’s where we’ve landed. Twitter has allowed a voice to emerge from the couches – be it the average Joe or the NFL pro. Everyone is empowered. It’s unfettered, it’s immediate and in it’s brevity it offers very little opportunity for perspective.

I can't go much further than agreeing with Wetzel. Cutler likely would've been slightly criticized, maybe called out by a columnist or two for being soft—but if the Tweets were kept only as thoughts instead of being broadcast it's likely this story never carries the weight it eventually does.

The Packers story is only further and stronger evidence of this. Players not being involved in a team photo—in what world does that become a national news story without tweets like this, this and this?

It's interesting stuff. The funny thing is, two years ago it wouldn't have been that hard to imagine social media arriving at this point, but now that we're here it is somewhat amazing. An even more interesting thought: where will we be two years from now? While I could've seen athletes playing a more prominent role on Twitter, I'm unsure where teams, athletes and fans will be 24 months from now. I am, however, excited to watch it play out.

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