Today it seems the only lifting athletes are doing is on the couch with a bag of gluten-free soy chips and a smart phone. With the craze of social networking and the rise of the social media celebrity, are athletes spending too much time on Twitter than training to be the next great?”
In the days of Deion Sanders football players rarely were seen or noticed unless they perform exceptionally well on the field. Sanders a loud personality, in his prime but he still produced on the field. Sanders would talk trash while high stepping to the end zone all to gain a reputation and simultaneously projecting himself as a separate brand from the NFL. Television shows, reporters, and writers alike would all tune in to The Deion Show just to see what he would do or say next. Today he is one of the most highly respected athletes of the NFL.
Today there are receivers like Chad Johnson who are “high personality” but do not produce much on the field. Johnson placed his personal life into the window of Twitter and social media. As great of an athlete he is, his numbers have not been great. In his previous season with the New England Patriots he amassed 15 receptions for 276 yards and 1 touchdown. In April 2011, CNBC listed the then-Ochocinco as No. 1 on its list of “Most Influential Athletes in Social Media.” Johnson is a six-time NFL Pro Bowler and was named to three All-Pro teams. He is considered to be a premier receiver by many critics but the question of his character still remains. Bad publicity is good publicity but with the type of status Johnson holds today is not because of his skills on the field but his pursuits off the field.
Johnson was always very active on Twitter, posting photos of riding bulls, trying out for major league soccer teams, and a few pro-animal rights ads in PETA “Ink-Not Mink” campaign. He has marketed himself to a very broad fan base because of his multiple pursuits but he is a highly remarked football player for reasons beyond football. Is this something that should be endorsed to other NFL players and prospects? That has yet to be determined but overall social media has changed the game of how far and fast an athlete can reach their fan base.
Jed Hughes the Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm’s Global Sports Practice says “Now more than ever, athletes must be careful about the messages they communicate on social media. In an age of celebrity obsession and 24/7 media, controversial comments can go viral in just seconds.” Hughes later advises that “It would be wise for athletes to engage in posting cautiously. Athletes are considered role models — whether they like it or not. They should set a positive example.”
Chad Johnson is an influential icon who reaches beyond football. He is a highly marketable individual because of his personality and how he interacts with social media. A team that signs him will definitely see an increase in stadium sales because of Chad Johnson’s presence. Sanders played baseball and football in the same year, all the while played in a super bowl and World Series. To play in both is an accomplishment to win both was his milestone. Is Johnson on track of doing the same but through different means? Though Johnson’s fame is unconventional to football he nonetheless is making a name for himself.
If Johnson can learn to focus his energy on football as much as he should towards his training he may be the pioneer of a new kind of athlete; an athlete who is marketing savvy as well. Is this the evolution of the football athlete? Will the NFL see an increase of its athlete’s involvement in social media? Are we as fans inviting this evolution because of our interest in their personalities rather than their skills on the field?