Olympics

Athletes getting shredded on Twitter

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

Serena Williams is smart enough to figure this out, experienced enough to hear warning sirens. With her unfiltered thoughts, she has inspired people at times, embarrassed herself at times. She has traveled the world, lived in public half her life. She’s 30 years old.

So despite having nearly 3 million followers, Williams, the sports world’s Queen of Twitter, recognizes that this isn’t the time to start talking off the top of her head.

“I’ve been really careful about saying things in social media,’’ she said Monday when I asked her about athletes getting kicked out of the Olympics for racist and insensitive tweets. “I haven’t been on my account too much. I would be devastated if I got kicked out of the Olympics.’’

These are already the Twitter Games. The Solo/Lolo Show has dominated US Olympics talk. Soccer player Hope Solo went on a Twitter rant against Brandi Chastain. Hurdler Lolo Jones made an insensitive joke on Twitter about the US and guns.

And on Monday, a second athlete — neither are Americans — was kicked out of the Olympics for racist comments on Twitter. Should athletes be kicked out of the Olympics for racist tweets?

“I think this is an event that is for all races and all countries and all looks and likes around the world,’’ Williams said. “And I think it’s honorable if they had to kick someone out because of that, then they really realize there’s no color bounds, there’s no nothing. It’s just pure, for sport. It’s definitely not a bad thing (that they are kicked out).’’

I’m not sure about that. Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella definitely had to go Monday. He went way past any acceptable line with his anti-South Korean tweets after his team lost to South Korea. They reportedly included: “I want to beat up all South Koreans! Bunch of mentally handicapped retards!’’

People are still trying to figure out what Twitter is, where the lines are. The truth is that tweets are being judged way too harshly. They are little thoughts that just pop out of people’s heads, meant to be stream of consciousness. That doesn’t mean you can go without a filter, but it does mean that we need to lower our standards a little before using tweets to judge who people are and what they’re about.

Good people do bad things. Smart people say dumb things. And if you’re going to have a social medium that involves thoughts off the top of your head, then you’re going to get bad and dumb things.

Williams knows. She doesn’t even trust herself not to let something dumb slip out at just the wrong time. Williams uses Twitter for fun, but also for business, building her brand. She also knows that handled incorrectly, it can hurt her brand.

These other athletes aren’t as savvy, don’t have the maturity on this.

Hope Solo is taking a bad rap for her Twitter rant. She did nothing wrong, other than, maybe, distract her team a little bit. That’s assuming the team is sitting around reading Solo’s tweets all day long. She is calling attention to herself, selling her new book, building her brand.

Chastain, the former US soccer star, was critical of her when she failed a doping test, and now Solo — without any bad language — tore into Chastain’s TV analysis.

“Its 2 bad we cant have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain,’’ Solo tweeted.

“Lay off commentating about defending and gking (goalkeeping) until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago.’’

What is the big deal about that? It made news, though, mostly because Solo has pop-culture appeal by being both controversial and attractive.

TWEET-NESS!

How are the athletes adjusting to the Olympics being over? See their latest tweets.

So US soccer coach Pia Sundhage felt the need to talk with Solo and tell her about the bubble that the team needs to be in. More news.

And on Monday, Solo all but repeated her criticisms of Chastain. More news.

The truth is, the people I trust least are the ones who never seem to slip up, never let on to a mistake.

The problem is that we’ve decided to create a zero-tolerance society. And the media, once the champion of free thinking and chance-taking, now have decided to take the easy way out and become the Twitter police. There are more noble callings.

The media uncovered Watergate, unveiled the atrocities committed against protesters in the Deep South, showed us Vietnam, and now noticed that Hope Solo is a bit pissy with a former soccer star.

It all comes right to them, in 140 characters or less.

And for some people out of the media, too, there is entertainment in gotcha. It’s like a sport in itself.

Lolo Jones tweeted this the other day: “USA Men’s Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that’s ok, we are Americans. . . When’s da Gun shooting competition?’’

That was a mistake, with the shootings in a Colorado movie theater still fresh on people’s minds. But in such a small window, it’s hard to figure out her context.

After heavy criticism was directed at her, she came back with another tweet: “sorry u guys only think of violence but I think of all the hunting I do w southerners in da south. Its impressive.”

No, it’s hard to see that she was talking about hunting. Jones isn’t as experienced with her fame as Williams is with hers. And I’m guessing Jones was talking about the American love of guns, probably tongue-in-cheek. And that didn’t go well with her public, with her brand, so, in concern about endorsers, she came back with the hunting thing.

She’s trying to backtrack out of the mess she tweeted herself into. But it was just a dumb thing that slipped out of her head, crossed over a line of bad taste and didn’t offend anyone, or hardly anyone.

The ancient history of the Olympics is connected to Athens, so it was ironic that the next era for the games, the Twitter era, was defined by a Greek. Triple-jumper Paraskevi Papahristou was the first one kicked out of the games for racist tweets.

We don’t have Twitter figured out yet. It is even interpreted differently by different generations. It’s a cross-section of people with a cross-section of thoughts trying to interpret.

No question it would be better for people to think before they tweet, as they are responsible for themselves. But it’s tricky. And the Twitter police are out there, waiting, reporting. Just 140 characters to the next Watergate.

Tagged: Hope Solo, Serena Williams, Lolo Jones

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