Social media can be an athlete’s best friend or worst enemy. The difference depends on how your athlete client uses his/her social media accounts. It is important for lawyers working with athletes, sports officials, coaches, and other sports professionals to understand how their athlete clients use technology, their goals, and the likelihood of their client causing problems for themselves.
For some sports clients, social media can make an average player a celebrity. Strategically using social media can craft a positive image for the client, and generate buzz for the client. For instance, Tim Tebow went into the NFL with tremendous fanfare. Many industry professionals did not believe he was a quality professional prospect. However, his public image was spotless, and his social media was (and continues) to provide his followers with positive images, messages, and reflection of himself. This keeps Tebow relevant, and provides him a platform to send out the messages he chooses to support.
Tebow has not played in a meaningful way in the NFL for several years, but his public image remains easily identifiable. He uses his social media wisely to solidify his image as a wholesome All-American guy. It also helps that he lives a wholesome life. He regularly volunteers, does not drink or smoke, and does not put himself in situations he can be criticized for his off field pursuits.
However, some athletes try to portrait one image and their social media reveals another, negative side. Recently, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was shown dancing in a DJ booth while holding a bottle of champagne at a night club in Austin, Texas during the Browns bye week. The problem with this image getting out, is that Manziel went to rehab this past offseason and claimed to be more mature and responsible enough to lead his team.
This image (along with a number of other snafus) led to the Browns benching him, and it could lead to him getting released from his contract.
There are a number of things to consider when counseling your client on his/her use of social media. If you can get your sports clients to understand the pitfalls many sports and entertainment personalities fall into, the fewer problems you will have to resolve on their behalf. Here are a few tips to counseling athletes on using social media:
- Avoid verbal fumbles: Social media is a medium that speech cannot be taken back. Especially with high-profile accounts. Sports clients need to understand that criticizing others or reacting harshly to criticism on message boards can dramatically increase the odds of being hit by a defamation lawsuit.
- Keep the home field advantage: Work with your athlete and his/her P.R. team to plan out social media posts. Crafting an image should be a well thought out effort that matches the personality, interests, and tone of the client. If any of these may harm the client’s image then social media should be reviewed and determine which social media accounts should be opened or shut down.
- Stay on the same page as your team: If your sports client has sponsors, make sure they do not feature themselves with a competitors product! If you have an athlete client with a Nike deal, make sure the only shoes he/she is seen in on social media are Nikes. You would be surprised how often social media causes problems with sponsorship agreements.
- Play prevent defense: Regularly remind your sports clients that those who can help them as well as those that can hurt them will follow their social media accounts. Thieves will follow to see when an athlete is at home, what the home looks like, and the valuables a sports client has. If your sports client wants to broadcast using Periscope, Meerkat or other live streaming app, make sure they do it from a location that will not give away too much information.
Social media has many benefits for athletes. They can stay connected with their fans, generate new revenue sources, and develop a positive public image. However, all of the positives can be brought down quickly and cause your sports client irreparable harm if social media is not taken as a serious endeavor.