In Their Own Words: Athletes Use Twitter To Control Media Narrative


There is certainly no shortage of places for the sports fan to turn for quality coverage.

You may have jumped on The Athletic train, casually scrolled through the all-encompassing Bleacher Report app, or stayed loyal to the original, ESPN. Regardless of where you get your information, you can bet the writers there rely heavily on “sources” or “insiders.”

As any low-level rumor might have spread like wildfire through your high school hallway, the same goes for professional sports when it comes to trades, politics, and player opinions. Who are these elusive insiders, and why do we trust them with our beloved teams?

Well, it seems players are wondering the same thing.

Across the Big Three (baseball, basketball, and football), tensions between players, owners, and governing bodies have never been higher. In the MLB, storms surround the juiced ball theory, revenue-sharing, and free agency, while the NBA features questionable refereeing and superteams, amongst other concerns. The issues in the NFL run deep; one barely has to scratch the surface of fandom to hit race relations and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

As of late, professional athletes are side-stepping insiders altogether and taking to Twitter to address these issues head-on. The change mirrors an overall power shift in sports, as athletes are vying for control of their own narratives through free agency and related practices.

Last week, for example, Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander took to Twitter to voice his belief that the ball is juiced, and that he doesn’t care — he just doesn’t want to be lied to.

Been sitting on this… Exit velo and launch angle and it’s correlation to % chance of becoming a homer. 2014 vs. 2017

— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) March 2, 2018

All I’m saying is I don’t care if balls are juiced (seriously). We’re all using the same ball so it’s a fair field. My issue is I don’t like being lied to. I knew something was different. Century old records are being broken and numbers are skewed.

— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) March 2, 2018

By side-stepping the middleman, Verlander avoids any risk of misinterpretation, and in doing so, told a better story than a professional writer could. It’s a win-win situation for him and his fans.

During an era in which the MLB is being accused of withholding revenue and colluding to save money, Verlander uses Twitter to assert what power he can, and does so at-will. Players do not have deadlines, editors, or ulterior motives — just information.

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh summed up this phenomena in his half-joking response to Verlander: that Lindbergh worked on his own juiced ball story for months, and Verlander “just tweeted it out.”

Another big story of the MLB offseason was pitcher Yu Darvish’s free agency. So-called “sources” for weeks gave their insider opinions on which teams were in the running to land the righty, and for what amount of money. Finally, Darvish hopped online to point out the lunacy of the situation.

I know one more team is in.

— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) January 11, 2018

Darvish simultaneously undermined the authority of the press and disrupted the rumor mill, controlling his own narrative, source-free.

The Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala took the same approach last offseason, mocking the whole system by reporting on himself the way a journalist would.

Sources close to Andre Iguodala reporting agreed to terms to return to the bay….

— Andre Iguodala (@andre) July 2, 2017

When Donald Trump took to Twitter to “disinvite” the Golden State Warriors from their NBA championship celebration in Washington, D.C., LeBron James fired back what would become the No. 7 most retweeted tweet of 2017:

U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

Would James ever have been so candid with the press? Not likely. Twitter allows for unadulterated communication between players and fans, which of course brings added responsibility for James, who is now liable to answer more thorny political questions sent his way.

Instances like these abound in the current Twitterverse, but that doesn’t mean Twitter will lead to the death of sports media. It simply necessitates a shift in reporting from informational to explanatory. In a world where players, rather than press, are empowered to break the next big story, consider the bar for good sports journalism raised.

If Marshall McLuhan is in fact correct in his infamous proclamation that “the medium is the message,” Twitter is speaking loud and clear.

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