Past The Press Box

Why denying a controversial tweet can damage an athlete's online brand and marketability

What's sometimes lost in the Q&A's, broadcasts, Facebook contests and blog posts of modern online sports marketing is the most fundamental part of social media: relationships.

The practice of blogging, one of the main ingredients in the modern hype around social media, started with those awful online diaries and LiveJournals—created so individuals could share their experiences online and connect with others. Social networks rose in popularity so people could tangibly define their web of interpersonal relationships.

Where am I going with this? If athletes really want to use social media in the best way possible, they should use it as it was originally intended: to foster relationships. They need to be open, honest and real in showing who they are. When athletes go back on the supposedly controversial things they say, it damages the relationship they have with fans, moreso than whatever they originally said.

As everyone's already seen, LeBron tweeted this gem while the Cavs were in the midst of getting defending champion'd to the tune of 55 points:

He then, of course, denied it. Well, kind of. He said that was indeed how he was feeling when he sent it, but that he was simply passing along what someone else sent to him.

Most would say that tweet is a bit spiteful, maybe even villainous. You know who can be really spiteful sometimes? Everyone.

Everyone has been LeBron. Every single person in the world has been motivated to accomplish something by others who didn't want them to do it.

When I was in middle school, I played in a recreational roller hockey league in a secluded and over-protected Seattle suburb called Bainbridge Island. Having recently moved out from Wisconsin, where I played ice hockey since age five, I tore through that league like late-80s MJ. The opposing teams (comprised mostly of kids just learning the sport) and their parents weren't big fans. My reaction? This.

Everyone's been there. You know who experiences the vitriol and venom LeBron sees when he goes on the road? Every single high school or college athlete who plays serious basketball or football.

This goes beyond sports. While not everyone has a boss like Dan Gilbert, I'm sure everyone has, at some point or another, seen some form of office politics and then used proving someone wrong as a motivation for work.

Bringing things back. For LeBron, this goes beyond simply "embracing the role of villain." Just be real. As long as what you're saying or doing isn't ridiculous, someone will feel similar. Hell, when I was a kid my favorite non-Jordan NBA player was Reggie Miller and he was kind of an asshole. But he was scrawny, he had ears that stuck out and he was great at showing people up.

The lesson: It's impossible for fans to develop a relationship with someone who's constantly acting ingenuinely. When an athlete fails to hold a strong relationship with his or her fans, they're less marketable. So LeBron, if you think contraction is good for the league, or that Dan Gilbert has what's coming to him, go for it. Ultimately, if it leads to fans seeing what you're like and being able to relate, you'll be better off for it.

Photo credit: bridgetds

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The American Sportswriter_