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«International Journal of Sport Communication, 2012, 5, 503-521 © 2012 Human Kinetics, Inc. ORIGINAL RESEARCH The Positives and ...»

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Accessing Information. Student-athletes also conveyed that they used Twitter to keep abreast of game information, which at times they actually did during the game. For instance, “I mean, the kickers and snappers and me are kind of in the corner of the locker room and everyone else was like... so I’ll get on Twitter and I’m like “Great rst half” and “Well, during a game I will be checking my timeline a lot.” Although student-athletes are prohibited from using social media during games, it appears that some of them willingly circumvent these rules, enticed by the ability to get “real-time” commentary about their individual performance or the collective performance of the team. Whereas some participants checked Twitter during games, others waited until after the game was over to obtain performance commentary. Examples included “But I’ll see like after the game they’ll send me like some direct message or something with my name like ‘good game’ or ‘I seen him do this’” and I want to see what people said and who’s watching. Like, I didn’t play that much, but the little bit I did play, I would have 20–30 tweets saying “Good run, you did this on this run” you know, just a whole bunch of different stuff.

Several of the student-athletes also disclosed that they used Twitter to search out what people were saying about them after games. These participants noted that in many instances, the commentary was overwhelmingly critical, a topic we address in the following section.

512 Browning and Sanderson Whereas it can be argued that criticism from fans “comes with the turf” of sports participation, social-media platforms such as Twitter seem to incite the worst in people, forcing student-athletes to adapt to criticism leveled at them in these digital domains.

Critical Tweets and Identity Student-athletes perceived critical tweets in varied ways. Some reported that the critical tweets had no effect on them: “I could care less—it’s their opinion so it is what it is”; “It’s something where you just have to take it with a grain of salt—it’s nothing that is going to mean anything to you in the end. It’s just someone’s reaction to a situation”; and I’m not going to waste my time writing you back or stating my piece or defending myself. At the end of the day, you’ve never been in our huddle, you’ve never been in our locker room, and you never will be so I could care less what you have to say.

For these individuals, criticism was something that was conveniently ignored and placed in proper perspective. These student-athletes recognized that their identity was not tied to fan perspectives, and although they might read critical tweets, they were perceived as inconsequential. Indeed, some student-athletes placed this commentary in the context of fans seeking to live vicariously through the team and, as such, deemed these critiques as unworthy of response.

Other student-athletes disclosed, however, that while they now ignored critical tweets, this decision had been a process. For example, I just really now I understand it a bit more—anytime someone says something about you, I handle it totally different now. I laugh at it now and think I guess he wants to be in my position and wants to be where I am so anytime they say something negative I just laugh and be like “You want to be where I am, don’t you?” and they really don’t have something to say after that. I just kind of have that reaction to those things now—I don’t blow up anymore.

Another participant shared, I ain’t going to lie, uh yes, sometimes I did respond to them and in a negative way and I’d tweet back to the world and I’d apologize for being upset;

I should’ve handled it a little better you know and people would say “We understand—they don’t have a right to say that to you.” So really, I’d just block them when they say something negative.

Still other student-athletes noted that critical tweets provided motivation to excel in their performance and prove their detractors wrong. For instance, “I look at it as either motivation or you have no idea what you’re talking about” and Every time I get a negative tweet, I use all the negative and turn it into a positive. Like I make it push me harder to not let it happen again so I don’t really let no negative stuff affect me—I always was above it and give thanks to the man upstairs and work harder and just don’t let it happen again.

How Student-Athletes Use Twitter Another student-athlete shared, But me, I’m the type that’s like “Oh yeah, that’s how you feel? I’m about to go out and do exactly what you said I wouldn’t do.” I’m the type, I like proving people wrong. I’ve been doing it my whole life so I like that type of stuff.

Whereas critical tweets had minimal effect on some student-athletes, others conveyed that it was challenging dealing with the negativity. Examples included “Some of them that we get are very overwhelming and you’re like ‘really?’ You’ll send this to a student-athlete? I mean come on now” and I try to stay away from them. They can’t say anything about how we play or what we can do—they just looking at it and don’t know what’s going on between our team. But I’ve actually been in a situation like that when we were in a tournament and the rst time I looked at it after the game we played (team) and I got a tech and after the game some dude on Twitter said something crazy.

He was like “You just need to shut up and play,” and I was like “If you didn’t see this game you can tell I had the rst 10 points of the game so what are you talking about playing?” and then saying something like “If you really want to say something, you can come see me—come to my face and say it—don’t hide behind Twitter.” And he was like—he was talking about “I know your Coach” or something like that and I was like “I don’t care if you know my Coach, man—you don’t know me, though.” And then, he was like—he said something else and I was just like “I feel sorry for your parents they had to put up with you and how old are you?” This is like a grown man and he’s acting like this. I’m 21 and you’re probably 40+ and he didn’t tweet me back after that. I was like okay, I told him, “You sound—you talk real tough over Twitter, but he won’t come to me and say that” and he was like “I know your Coach” and I’m like “I don’t care if you know my coach.” Another student-athlete shared, Oh yeah, when I transferred there were a bunch of negative things like people saying I’m a quitter and they don’t even really know the inside story what happened. I really got... if they was really in that situation they’d have felt what I felt: low-balled, disrespected as an athlete, being pushed away to where you’re not even traveling with the team—like that’s so disrespectful to an athlete when I’ve been busting my butt, and they trying to put me on like Scout punt team or whatnot it was not cool at all. It was horrible and you know, my family was sick on top of that so there was nothing I could do.

Social-media platforms such as Twitter provide tremendous connective capabilities for fans and athletes (Sanderson, 2011a; Sanderson & Kassing, 2011) that can be both positive and problematic. The fact that student-athletes are amateurs and students appears to be lost on some fans, who feel the need to lambaste studentathletes via Twitter. Although some student-athletes refuse to let these critiques fracture their identity or use these challenges as motivation to improve, others are clearly affected by these tweets. Student-athletes must navigate between various identity positions such as athlete, student, and representative of the academic institution in determining how to handle critical tweets.

514 Browning and Sanderson Responding to Critical Tweets Student-athletes responded to critical tweets in varied ways. Some chose to ignore these tweets: “I just ignore it though—even if you want to reply you just can’t cause it’s nothing but trouble. Especially when you play rivals” and “I don’t want it to just sit there and have it burn in my mind and just let someone rip me like that, but I guess sometimes you gotta let that happen.” Another student-athlete indicated that

while ignoring was the option he chose, it was nonetheless dif cult:

No, I want to but my character... I’m a bigger person than that and I have true fans that really follow me and I don’t want to give a bad impression so I just blow it off. I look at it like this, everybody want to be in the athlete’s shoes and they’re probably 40, don’t have a job, and just watch college football or something and just trying to bring somebody down so you can’t pay that no attention.

But it’s tough and especially we have to be athletes and being at [school] we have to watch what we say on [school] and be role models so we can’t use foul language on there or say something out of the ordinary, you know? Uh, it’s tough... we talk about that all the time, my teammates—I wish I could cuss on Twitter, speak my mind on Twitter.

Others indicated that they deleted the person from their Twitter feed, although this apparently failed to stop fans who were intent on criticizing them: “I’ll delete it, or try to delete it, if I can. Or I block them, but they somehow nd another name and get on and do it again” and If I get a negative tweet, I just go and block that person. I just block them and that solves the problem. Once I block them they immediately go off my timeline and out of my “mentions” and they can’t tweet me, they can’t do nothing. You can ignore it, but it still going to be there, but if you block ’em, it’s basically like they never sent it.

Some student-athletes reported strategic ways they dealt with negative tweets.

One noted, “I’ll probably retweet it and my little fans that follow me, they will go at him like that.” Other student-athletes talked about a practice they labeled subtweeting, whereby they would respond to a person without naming that person’s Twitter ID. “There’s a thing called subtweeting where you tweet about somebody, but don’t actually add their name” and I sometimes will, it’s called subtweeting. It’s where you tweet about it, but you don’t mention the person that tweeted you. So I might say something like “That one tweet that I got didn’t really get to me as much as I would’ve thought it did.” Student-athletes disclosed a variety of methods for responding to critical tweets, which ranged on a continuum from no response to strategically responding. Student-athletes’ responses seemed to re ect their position on an identity continuum, a process we elaborate on in the following section.

How Student-Athletes Use Twitter Discussion Social media have become powerful sport media tools (Sanderson & Kassing, 2011;

Sanderson, 2011a). Twitter appears to be the dominant social-media platform, and its trajectory of in uence will only continue to escalate. Indeed, several of the studentathletes disclosed that Facebook had grown old and no longer merited their time, while expressing that Twitter was the newest and best social-media platform. Critics of Twitter are hasty to dismiss it as another fad enjoying a temporary visit in the limelight. However, while these criticisms are popular, they seem shortsighted. Whereas social-media sites use various growth strategies, Twitter’s growth is user generated.

The motivation to follow and to be followed is strong not only with student-athletes but also with people in general (as the Twitter statistics alluded to earlier suggest).

Although student-athletes used Twitter to keep social connections and for information seeking (Farquhar & Meeds, 2007; Ruggiero, 2000), they also used it in ways that differed from other groups. Sayed (2012) studied political activists’ reasons for using Twitter and discovered that guiding followers to content and keeping informed of current events were primary motivations. For student-athletes, Twitter was a platform to obtain information from followers; thus, rather than steering followers to content, they solicited followers to obtain the data and report back to them. Given student-athletes’ time constraints, outsourcing information procurement to followers is an ef cient way to deploy Twitter, and it should be noted that this trend is also being employed by professional athletes (Sanderson, 2013).

In addition, while a few student-athletes reported using Twitter to send updates to friends and family, for many of them, Twitter was a vehicle for information accumulation rather than information dispersion, a notable divergence from their peer group.

Researchers have noted that college students use social-media channels (including Twitter) to disclose information (McKinney et al., 2012). It may be plausible that student-athletes mimic this usage behavior, but it may occur on Facebook or another social-media channel, not Twitter. Twitter serves as a medium for student-athletes to conveniently gauge the social “discussion” about themselves and their team, as well as staying abreast of happenings with their friends, teammates, and family.

Research on group motivations for using Twitter is still in its infancy, and we are hesitant to draw contrasts with other studies measuring Facebook motivations, but it seems clear that student-athletes use Twitter to gather information, both through information updates from their connections and by soliciting followers for information. In addition, student-athletes are in a unique position compared with their peers (although not from other athletes) in that they are the conversation on Twitter, as such, Twitter is a valuable resource for them to monitor what is being said about them. In accessing Twitter to view commentary, student-athletes encountered both accolades and criticism, which in uenced their identity management. Indeed, the frequency with which many student-athletes checked Twitter suggests a strong need to see what people were saying about them, an action that is rooted in identity management.

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