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Reflecting on the Browns Players' Use of Social Media

Alex Trautwig

Over a decade ago, the only way players could really vent was via the local or national media. We saw what happened when Tim Couch lashed back at fans who "cheered" him leaving a game to injury. Today, players just need a different type of media to let their voice be heard -- social media, specifically Twitter.

Most of you have read Matt Wood's article from late last week titled, "When Players Become Fans and the Problem It Presents." It summarizes the trolling that Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and Phil Taylor did toward Cleveland fans via Twitter after the Miami Heat (and LeBron James) won the NBA Finals. Here are a couple of my thoughts, reflecting on the issue:

  • The trolling tweets from the Browns players seemed to be the talk of the weekend, whether it be on Browns sites or the local radio stations. While I definitely understand the issue and side more with the fact that the players were in the wrong, this whole thing was definitely way overblown.
  • I always look at some of the context of the situation. Most of us have said that we have no problem whatsoever that the players were rooting for the Heat. With as many followers as someone like Gordon has, though, I guarantee you that this is what happened: (1) Gordon tweeted about his support for the Heat, and then (2) hundreds of fans tweeted over-the-top negativity at Gordon.
  • Athletes have been criticized by fans for generations. Besides Twitter giving athletes a direct mouthpiece to the world, it also gives fans a direct outlet to the players' ears. On Twitter, it often comes down to human nature that someone is going to look at who is talking about them at that very minute. When things are going good, it's a good way to stroke your ego. When they are not, it gets under your skin, whether you admit it or not.
  • Ideally, you have players on your team who know the impact that one's words will hold. As much as a team's public relations person tries to keep things in check, players, in large part, now serve as their own PR directors. For some people, like Joe Haden and former Brown Joshua Cribbs, social media worked to their advantage to boost their popularity among fans. There has to be an understanding of how to keep things positive, whether it is genuine or not.
  • That's the part that Gordon and company missed out on. They saw a bunch of insults thrown at them, so their impulse is to react in spite of the negativity. The big picture they failed to see is that as soon as they make one negative tweet, the floodgates are opened to every Browns fan who did and didn't have a problem with them in the first place.
  • I get that not every player is going to be a Haden, Phil Dawson, Joe Thomas, or Cribbs and be cherished by the fans for the way they conduct themselves on and off the field. That's fine. But, it also makes you wonder about the long-term implications of a player.

    It's no secret that Cleveland is not the dream landing spot for NFL players, so it does throw the question out there of if these type of players are looking to leave Cleveland the first chance they get. If you are a losing team, the answer is "yes." Winning can be a good cure-all, though, and if the Browns start contending for the playoffs, that, coupled with a fair market payday, will be all those players need to stay happy, and that's fine with me.
  • Maybe this is a good start for Gordon, if he's done any reflecting since this issue came to light:
    Bite your tongue and move past the criticism, because you'll be facing it from a finite number of fans no matter where you go. Don't say something that's just going to escalate things to the "nth" degree, though, to the point where it becomes "Chris Perez out-of-hand."

Terry Pluto from the Plain Dealer touched on this topic in his column on Sunday, and he had the same line of thinking that I did:

4. Players often talk about respect. And players can cheer for any team or player, especially in another sport. And young players who have been handed millions of dollars aren't the maturest folks on the planet. But Josh Gordon needs to remember he was suspended for two games for flunking an NFL drug test. Why rub it into the faces of the Cleveland fans who were rooting for LeBron James to lose to San Antonio Spurs? It's just a dumb thing to do.

5. I'm not going to dwell on some of the silly Tweets from Gordon and Phil Taylor. But I will say that more and more, I understand why some top Browns operatives told me that they were concerned about the "entitlement mentality" of some of the players. Gordon can be a terrific player if he takes his job seriously. If not, he should remember this front office and coaching staff didn't draft him.

I agree with what Matt concluded with initially: "...for a franchise that is desperate need of connecting with fans, how has someone not taught these kids better?" The question is, who is that "someone" going to be? It's not going to be the fans, otherwise they wouldn't have gotten into this mess in the first place. This isn't something that requires some form of punishment by the team. Jim Brown hinted that he wanted to set a few players straight (those are my words), but at the end of the day, I think we just have to accept the fact that this is the way these players are. If it means I'm not clamoring to print out a Josh Gordon Cubbe, then so be it -- but the player(s) had better make damn sure they bring enough to the table to draw the Browns closer to a Super Bowl.