FLORHAM PARK, NJ — In an era where fans are closer to the game more than ever — literally and figuratively — is it time for us, the fans, to take a step back? We have been introduced to field box seats, insider access, sideline reporters, player’s mic’d up mid-game, documentaries filming the ‘hard knock’ life of an NFL player. Yet everything pales in comparison to the connections and bonds fans can create with athletes on the social-networking site Twitter.

On the surface, the idea is pure genius: a social median that allows the fan to interact not with a publicist or player representative, but the actual athlete. And with a simple click of a button we’re allowed into the athlete’s world, knowing exactly what’s happening in their lives — as the Twitter timeline requests users to share.

In recent weeks athletes, NFL athletes in particular (who conveniently have too much time on their hands with the lockout hitting 62 straight days and counting), have found themselves at the center of controversy not for their actions, but for their thoughts.

Reggie Bush, of the New Orleans Saints, took heat for his off-the-cusp thoughts on the lockout from fans and sports pundits around the country. Later clarified as a joke (in what could be considered a back-handed apology), Bush appeared to alienate his 1.6 million followers who want to see football played this year.

“Everybody complaining about the lockout! Shoot I’m making the most of it! Vacation, rest, relaxing, appearances here and there! I’m good! … Right about now we would be slaving in 100 degree heat, practicing twice a day, while putting our bodies at risk for nothing.”
Upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed and the knee-jerk celebratory reaction by many Americans, Rashard Mendenhall, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tweeted these controversial comments on the issue:
“What kind of person celebrates death? … It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side … I believe in God. I believe we’re ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.”
He also questioned the overall acceptance of bin Laden being the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks saying “we’ll never know what really happened”. After being nationally criticized for said comments, Mendenhall didn’t retract his statements only furthered explained them in an open letter to the media on his blog.
Jets fans loved Santonio Holmes on the field. But off of it? Many took offense when he lashed out to his fans on his Twitter account. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

Even the Jets star wideout, Santonio Holmes, has seen the negative backlash for posting his thoughts for the Twitter world to see. But there’s a greater issue at hand than just our players not living up to the country’s unreasonably high standards of their professional athlete. Should this even be an issue to begin?

Their work world is two cliches that have been mashed together: They are grown men playing a kid’s game, yet the NFL is a business. These guys play a game, yet are surrounded by professional workers whose job is to inform the country about all their happenings. If players thought they were suffocated by cameras and boom mics before, now they have to worry about the social media hounds who scour Twitter coal mines to find that rare diamond in the rough.
The thoughts that are expressed by NFL players, or any athlete for that matter, are not that far-fetched from what I might say to my friends or on Twitter (Insert shameless plug here: follow me @Wesley_Sykes) on any given night. The only difference is that these guys have a spotlight the size of an Ozone depletion hole on them. Aside from being paid millions to play the kid’s game, athletes are people too; people with ideas, thoughts and feelings about issues outside of the gridiron.
And who are we to deny them the right to exercise the First Amendment? Certainly, athletes are considered role models and are held to a higher standard because of that and deservedly so. But where do we draw the line in the sand for what is considered to be social media banter and over-the-line commentary (see @OfficialBraylon, @OchoCinco)? Does the NFL silence their players and fine them for their actions? Or continue to refer to the anonymous Twitter hacker who seems to constantly get into the accounts of star athletes of all sport stages?
No matter the case Twitter is not going anywhere anytime soon, nor is it going to change. Despite the outrage people display about the carelessness of some athlete’s tweets, ordinary Joes connecting with the pros is and will continue to be one of the main draws to the country’s most popular social median.
While Twitter will not be changing, perhaps we should take a step back from our respected timelines and realize that the connection that this median offers is far greater than any “Hard Knocks” documentary or the latest segment of  “Mic’d Up”. Twitter offers a direct, unfiltered pipeline into the mind of athlete’s and we, as fans, shouldn’t be outraged by one’s thoughts. After all, haven’t we all thought or said something that doesn’t completely represent who we are as people?
To conclude this piece, I propose a question to the Twitter world: #WhySoSerious?

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