Sports and Twitter: A Balancing Act

I suppose I sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I’m neither devout nor skeptical. I wasn’t converted particularly early or particularly late. I’m convinced of its utility in that it gives comfort to many, but I’m not yet convinced to the same extent of its necessity.

I am, of course, referring to the Church of Twitter.

Nearly two years ago, I launched my first sports blog, SoapBoxSportsByte. Despite its inaccessibly long domain name – one that absolutely no one, including my own mother, could remember – the blog served as the impetus for the creation of my Twitter profile.

At the time, Twitter was much more of a craze than a phenomenon. I figured that my profile – shortened to @SoapBxSprtsByte so that absolutely nobody could remember it – would help me promote my new blog and garner a little extra traffic.

As I soon realized, Twitter is so much more than a promotional tool. Rather, I’d venture to say (and given its proliferation on the sidebars and bottomlines of seemingly every current television program, I don’t think I’d be alone), that it is the most revolutionary tool for sending and receiving information since the invention of e-mail. At any given moment, one can log-on to Twitter and be met with thousands of musings, jokes and “did-you-knows?” on the topics that interest them. Granted, the musings might be from Joe the Plummer, the Did-You-Knows? on the intricacies of American defecation habits, and the jokings quite  tasteless; but, information is, at the end of the day, still information. You could make a strong argument that this overload of information, most of it marginal and all of it quick and fast and ethically loose, has caused us to neglect things more “important,” and has led to a further polarization and fragmentation of media. While I’d likely subscribe to this train of thought, it is mostly useless; Considering net impact and providing cost/benefit analysis isn’t valuable when the subject you’re discussing is going absolutely nowhere any time soon. Twitter’s here to stay – at least until someone creates a superior outlet for all the bullshit our friends used to get pissed at us for posting on facebook.

            Yet, as my blog evolved into the slightly less cumbersomely-titled TheFanManifesto, and as my twitter feed took on the new site’s namesake, and as I found myself furiously tweeting during and between sporting events, I think it is worth discussing how Twitter has impacted the way we watch sports.

            For sports fans, Twitter has become the third commentator in the announcing booth. (Or, perhaps, if irritating traditional play-by-play has your TV permenantly on “mute,” the only one.) A fanatic can log-on during the game to see how his fellow diehards are faring, or to trade opinions. A casual fan can hit the site and find explanations for rules he or she doesn’t understand. Fans of any stripe can follow beat reporters and other journalists, and in return receive information on in-game injury updates and statistical quirks that have yet to (and surprisingly often, don’t) make it over the television airwaves.

            Just one example of how Twitter has enhanced how fans watch their favorite teams: a few years ago, Fox hired the NFL’s former head of officiating, Mike Pereira, to chime into the broadcast and provide his expert opinion on controversial plays. It was a rare innovative move for a sports broadcasting industry that hasn’t changed all that much since the inception of instant replay. 

            In 2012, Pereira is already obsolete. Not sure what you just saw? Need an interpretation of a complex rule? Want to know if the play is going to be overturned? There’s no need to wait for Fox to play it back six times in hyper-super-slo-mo. Simply log-on to twitter, and read the opinions of a nation full of Mike Pereira’s – including @MikePereira himself.

            Yet, as are eyes remain glued to our Twitter smartphone apps, and as our fingers type furiously, eternally unable to keep up with Twitter’s pedal-to-the-medal pace, I’d also argue that Twitter has detracted – and not insignificantly – from the enjoyment of our favorite pastimes.

On SoapBoxSportsByte, I ran a regular “running-blog” feature. The premise was simple and derivative: Whenever I found myself at a sporting event, or sitting down in front of my TV to watch a particularly important game, I’d tweet in real time. Jesse Golomb’s thoughts, opinions, and corny jokes sent out to a group of a few hundred followers would then be repackaged after the game into a column for the blog.

But, as I continued to do these “running-blogs,” I found that I would spend more time looking at computer screen, googling statistics, and checking my mentions, replies and retweets then I would actually watching the action on the field. There were times I would be at a Yankee game, miss a play or pitch – and then actually, pathetically, check my timeline to see what everyone was so excited about.

Rather than living in and enjoying reality, I was doing everything I could to keep up with a group of people I had never met, in a forum formed on a foundation of one’s and zeroes.

And while most fans don’t tweet dozens of times during games, or write foolish “running-blogs,” there’s no doubt that a large percentage of sports nation finds themselves incessantly twittering about, unable to keep their eyes on the action they often pay large amounts in ticket, merchandise and cable fees to feel a part of.  It represents yet another part of the gradual shift in the identity of the sports fan: from casual spectator, to wannabe journalist, running blog or not.

All this is unfortunate, because as I said, Twitter isn’t going anywhere, and spending too much time on its pitfalls while ignoring its peaks is nothing if not futile. Yet, let this serve as a call to action, one more part of our manifesto as sports fans: pick your head up and watch. There’s a game on you used to care a lot more about.

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