The Role of Social Media in the NFL Labor Strife

The following is part of an occasional series from The Sports Muse on the role and influence of social media on sports.

The New York Times last week featured an excellent article by Judy Battista that brought up several interesting points about the current NFL labor dispute and how social media is playing a very public part in the situation.

As has already happened several times with regard to NFL players (read: The Jay Cutler Twitter controversy), social media has changed so much about sports news, including how the news is given as well as received. In many cases now, what happens on medium such as Twitter IS the news.

Battista’s story features tweets from NFL players commenting on the current state of labor negotiations. It also features the brief updates of agents and NFLPA representatives on the challenges currently facing the league delivered via Twitter.

In a publication called “NFLPA Guide to the Lockout,” the following advice is given to players about the public nature of their comments via social media:

“In this modern world of media and social networking, know that the nature of comments you make on Facebook, Twitter and text are taken seriously by the public. One negative comment by a player can be detrimental to the negotiation process and confuse the public and media on the position of our players.”

Battista notes that a lockout, should it occur, will be the first work stoppage for a major sport in the age of social media. The implications of this fact remain to be seen.

The level of access the world now has to the opinions of professional athletes is part of the beauty of social media. But as we continually learn, the ramifications of such unrestricted access and communication are hard to anticipate. If a lockout happens and goes through the summer, will there be signs of dissent in the ranks of players as concerns about earning a paycheck grow?

Despite the possible risks, the player’s union is encouraging its players to  stay active on social media networks. Via the NYT article, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae says,

“We’re telling our players be vocal, tweet away, tell people what you think, but make sure you tell them truth. It’s a positive for us. People want to know what the deal is. They feel so much a part of the game, and they are. This gives them an added feel that we care about them. You’d be hard-pressed to find players who have spoken out against what the union is doing, aside from one or two guys. But the issue we have with social media is minimal compared to the positive response we’ve had with it.”

The issues facing the players are greater than any challenges presented by social media. The attention of the player’s union, now with little more than 4 days until the current CBA expires, is where it needs to be: Getting a deal done with the owners and avoiding a lockout.

Though an interesting component of the situation, if there is a work stoppage in the NFL the social media conduct of football players will be the least of the concerns of the players, their families, and the non-millionaire staffers who help to execute the daily business of NFL teams who may find themselves out of work.

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