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Social Networking and the NFL (or The New England Patriots stance on tweeting)

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You might say, "MPF?  What the heck does this have to do with football?"  And that would be a good question.  While catching up with the day's New England Patriots news activities, a Mike Reiss blog entry on tweeting caught my eye.  If you're not yet familiar with "tweeting", check out this Wikipedia.org article on the subject.  Without going through a long, protracted discussion of social networking (Myspace, Facebook, blogs, twitter...), it's a way to share information.  In the case of tweeting, very small messages of 140 characters max.  We at SB Nation use Twitter extensively to tweet our story URL's.

Now, let me give you my viewpoint before I discuss Belichick's apparent lockdown on social networking, Twitter in particular.  I've been in Information Technology for a looooonnng time.  Like me, some of you old timers may be familiar with USENET, one of the original threaded discussion networks and the predecessor to bulletin boards like phpBB.  These were excellent for having discussions with people from around the globe.  Sharing information with a colleague was as simple as putting an entry in a threaded discussion group.  It was better than email in that it didn't send multiple copies of the same thing to your intended audience.  The issue with this form of communication was a) atrocious writing skills by many and b) related to "a", an inability to convey what was really meant.  Even so many years ago, I found it somewhat disturbing.  With the anonymity offered to a responder, they could "assassinate" the writer with little threat of recourse - trolls as we now call them.  At that moment, I adopted the mantra "if you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it at all".

So what does this have to do with tweeting?  One more opinion and I'll get to it.  Social Networking, or online communities, became the rage not to long ago.  Social Networking is not new, but it has been made easier by platforms such as myspace and Facebook.  My introduction was via my daughter's request to have a myspace page.  Call me a prude, but the answer was a flat out and emphatic, NO!!!  I can't put enough exclamation marks at the end of that.  Everyone parents differently and I don't mean to denigrate those that chose to allow their children to have pages, but my experience in the world of computers and networks made me extremely gun shy about it.  That and a friend in law enforcement assigned to a "computer stalkers" task force.  The stories would cause you to block everything on your child's computer but Sesame Street.

As I read through some of these pages, it became apparent people were sharing WAY too much information.  Pictures of family vacations, updates on family, it was all a bit much for me.  Now, I DO think there are some sites that do a decent job of limiting who can access your information.  Facebook is one of them.  While I'm sure there's ways to circumvent the protections put in place and your kids would actually have to PUT those protections in place, I've made connections with former classmates and kept in touch with former co-workers.  However, I don't feel the need to tell them I'm tweeting from the patio.

This brings me around to why Belichick is right to curtail his player's use of social networking.  Yes, Belichick is notoriously strict about the messages conveyed to the "outside world".  Stories of players being "coached" about what to say and how to say it are common.  And there's very few players allowed to speak to the media.  There is a very good reason for this.  Control.  Some would say too much control, but I think it's valuable.  Like any professional organization, the message to the outside world must be made carefully.  In my company, all requests for information from the outside are channeled through our media relations department.  That way, the message is consistent and the chance of leaking intellectual property is significantly reduced.  That and saying something stupid which could end up in the media's hands.

And that is exactly what Bengals Safety,Chinedum Ndukwe, may have done:

But the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have seemingly put their foot down on allowing players to Tweet and one potential reason is so that no one can disseminate anything particularly inflammatory.

Which is exactly what Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe might have done last night from what appears to be his personal Twitter. Ndukwe posted the following about an hour after the game:

We got a win....brady ate dirt...and estaban.. aka sugar..aka...sweetness...aka..ochocinco,kicked a perfect field goal, gotta love it

There's been a rash of fake twittering, but if this turns out to be true, Chinedum is a poster child for why athletes can't be left to their own devices, why they have to be managed like my teenage daughter.  If you believe in bulletin board material, Belichick will hang this quote on every offensive linemen's locker just to infuriate them.  Brady eating dirt?  Not on my watch.  It's time to put the hammer down.

"The Message" needs to come from one place and one place only.  It needs to be thoughtful and consistent.  Many young adults have grown up with social networking.  They've grown up putting pictures of their drunken exploits on Facebook.  They've tweeted about picking up bread or what movie to watch tonight.  And many prospective employers regularly sift through those sites prior to making a hiring decision.  I do.

Should players be allowed to use social networking?  Is Belichick being a grumpy, old man?