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Athletes Provide Lessons in Social Media

Robert Chilver

We’ve all heard stories on just how influential the social media world can be. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are great for networking and have also become tools for job-seekers. Not only are people learning about job openings by following relevant companies, but they are also showcasing their skills by passing along online resumes and videos. Recently, athletes have provided us with some great examples of how to use, and how not to use, social media in regards to our career.

In sports, at-home videos have become a popular way for the unknown athlete to gain national headlines. There have been several recent examples of these videos going viral thanks to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Football players especially have recently tried to up their stock through viral home videos. A few years ago, many experts believed Chicago Bears draft pick Jarron Gilbert was drafted higher than he should have because of an impressive video of him jumping out of a pool, exhibiting impressive lower body strength. This year, trick shot videos have become popular among quarterbacks looking for more exposure. Johnny Mac of Connecticut was the first two become a national phenomenon, while Alex Tanney of Monmouth was close behind. The trend even led Washington State long-snapper Zach Enyeart to make a long-snapping trick shot video in hopes of getting an NFL team’s attention. Zach didn’t get drafted last weekend in the 2011 NFL Draft (long-snappers rarely do) but you can bet that NFL scouts saw the video and it will likely get him an invite to training camp as an undrafted free agent.

One success story that was directly related to social media was that of Illinois College basketball player Jacob Tucker. Tucker, a 5’11” guard, wanted the world to know he was one of the best dunkers in college basketball. But the annual NCAA dunk contest usually only invited Division I players. Because he played at a D-III schools, not to mention his height, Tucker would have been looked over by the NCAA. So Tucker and his teammates made a video of his best dunks, then let Twitter and Facebook do the rest. The video quickly blew up and Tucker suddenly had millions of people supporting his inclusion in the NCAA dunk contest. Tucker was invited and Tucker won, beating out some of the top basketball prospects in all of college.

Of course, just as social media can help athletes succeed; it can also greatly hurt their standing in the sports world. As you may have heard, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall came under fire this week for remarks he made on twitter about the death of Osama bin Laden. The comments certainly won’t help his relations with the fans, and even the Steelers organization was forced to comment on the situation. You can bet this is something Rashard will have to speak to his employers about.

As ESPN writer James Walker noted in his article about Mendenhall;

“Here is the most dangerous thing about Twitter: It allows us to say the first thing that comes to mind. There are times when that's not the best idea. And with Twitter there is no filter, no editor and no one there to stop us to think about the repercussions.”

Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen also learned this the hard way, earning himself a suspension earlier this year for not thinking his tweets through before posting. After being ejected, Guillen criticized the umpire on twitter even though using social media is banned during games. He lost his job for a few days and paid a hefty fine.

The point of all this; Social media can greatly affect your career, athlete or not. Whether it helps you succeed or fail, that depends on how you use it. Social media gives each user the ability to be heard by the whole world. And it’s our responsibility to make sure we use this power for our benefit. For job-seekers, you can bet employers will check your Facebook or Twitter account to learn about who you are and what you have to say about the industry. For those already with a career, be mindful of what your employer will think about your posts. As an employee, you are now representing your company as well as yourself.

So be responsible, but be creative. Draw the right kind of attention and you’ll be one of the many success stories of social media.