Apologizing in 140 characters or fewer

Tiger Woods. Cam Newton. Kobe Bryant. Chipper Jones. Gilbert Arenas. Lance Armstrong.

Professional athletes are no strangers to scandals and crises, both professional and personal. Countless studies and theories have been constructed based solely on how they respond to these crises. Sometimes they fiercely deny the accusations thrown at them. Other times they shift the blame to others or blame the environment they grew up in.

Oftentimes (probably what ends up happening the most) they apologize, and one of the most useful tools that has emerged for these apologies is Twitter.

Twitter is one of the most useful platforms for apologies because it allows athletes the opportunity to directly address the fans. Fan-athlete interaction on Twitter is at an all-time high and allows the stars to engage with their fans in ways they never could before. The International Journal of Sport Communication recently released a study that found that 17 percent of the content on an athlete’s Twitter page is responding to fans. It makes sense, then, that athletes would turn to Twitter for apologies when they mess up because it allows them to reach the fans that feel the most disappointed by their idols’ indiscretions.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper came under fire over the summer for verbally attacking a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert. In addition to an official apology disseminated via the organization, Cooper took to his personal Twitter account to address the situation.



Cooper’s apology reached his almost 70,000 followers, and that number increases when taking into account the number of retweets his tweets received. His Twitter apology was followed by a video apology, a necessary step to make sure that it reached fans who are not on Twitter.

Brothers and NFL players Maurkice and Mike Pouncey used Twitter to apologize after photos surfaced of them wearing “Free Hernandez” hats at a nightclub in Miami. Because the pictures were spread most widely on social media, an apology via Twitter was the most logical and certainly the most useful course for them.

As much as Twitter can help, however, it also frequently is what gets athletes in trouble in the first place. After the verdict was released in the George Zimmerman trial, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White tweeted a series of inflammatory remarks. After catching flack for those remarks from fans and League officials, White again took to Twitter to apologize.



White actually has a reputation as being a pretty colorful “tweeter,” so this was not the first (nor will it be the last, I’m sure) instance of him having to apologize.

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz also came under fire for his tweets on the same trial. Instead of directly apologizing, however, he deleted the original tweet and later posted a vague message about him not condoning violence. This illustrates that Twitter is useful for more than just the direct apology. The entire spectrum, from blame the accuser to apology can (and has) been used.

The most useful course of action for athletes, however, is to self-censor and refrain from scandals in the first place.


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