The National Hockey League unveiled its social media policy yesterday, and as you might expect with anything ending with the word “policy,” there’s the potential it will take the fun out of hockey players using social media. This move wasn’t unexpected: the NHL is following suit after the three other major U.S. sport leagues set their respective policies/rules. The NHL is actually kinda sorta late with this one. With more and more news outlets reporting on athletes’ Twitter accounts, tweets are now the equivalent of a player’s actual quote. It’s a pretty interesting evolution of player comment when you think about it: Twitter has become an alternative official mouthpiece.
So, it’s not surprising for the NHL to put some rules in place, mainly in an attempt to muzzle players from leaking private team information to opponents, media, and *shudder* gamblers (you can check out Puck Daddy’s recap for a full breakdown of the new policy). As far as policies go, though, this one isn’t
that bad. Guidelines include Respect your audience. Do not divulge proprietary information. A player must take personal responsibility for comments, and so on. Basically: think before you tweet, which is good advice for everyone. But as much as I don’t want to, I can’t help but resent this crackdown from Big Brother Bettman and Co.
Look, I get that the NHL is a multi-billion-dollar business, and with any entity that big there’s going to be rules put in place. I just don’t want to lose what, up until now, has been a pretty cool line of communication between players and fans.
The beauty of Twitter is its openness. Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone told Howard Stern he doesn’t consider Twitter a social network because users can follow/interact with people they don’t even know. I don’t know Toronto Maple Leaf Joffrey Lupul, but after following him for a few months I wouldn’t mind having him on the Bruins roster. I don’t know Edmonton defenseman Ryan Whitney but the guy’s pretty funny. I don’t want to lose this (seemingly) unfettered access to players, and I don’t want players to have to neuter themselves to comply with corporate policy. If so, what’s the point of following?
Are players going to write in their Twitter bios that their tweets do not reflect the views of their employer, much like we see in the corporate world (are these even necessary, by the way? Have they defused any controversy created by a rogue employee tweet? Do they carry any legal weight?)?
I read Ross Levanto’s post two weeks ago about Arian Foster violating the Houston Texans’ social media policy, which, as Ross points out, likely will dissuade Foster from further tweeting. Twitter’s supposed to be fun; it’s a gateway into the lives of athletes and helps us learn more about them off the field and ice. Fans live for that stuff.
This glimpse into a player’s life and personality that Twitter provides is something we didn’t have just four or five years ago. Even the best-intentioned policies have flaws. The NHL should be very careful here not to restrict some of its most entertaining ambassadors. For a league that regularly places a distant fourth in U.S. popularity behind the NFL, NBA, and MLB, that wouldn’t be smart at all… or fun.