Fact: Athletes say stupid things on social media. That dead horse has been beaten, the fat lady has sung, the fans have gone home. As marketers, it’s hard to put too much blame on the players for this. They don’t make a living off of social media. However, the PR people who are hired to run the team’s Twitter account should know better. Cheering for the home team is one thing, but calling out opposing players crosses the line.
During last night’s game against the Braves, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper hit a home run against Julio Teheran. The next time Harper was up to bat, Teheran hit him in the leg. Harper yelled at Teheran for purposely hitting him, the benches cleared briefly, and then everyone settled down and resumed the game.
Correction: all of the players resumed the game, the social media manager for the Braves still needed to add his two cents.
Clown move bro
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) August 7, 2013
Now, this could have been an opportunity for the voice of the Nationals to be the bigger man and let the comment slide. But he didn’t.
@Braves Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 7, 2013
The Braves have won 12 straight games and are 14.5 games ahead of the Nationals. This taunt makes them look cocky and smug. Had the Nationals ignored it they would have made the Braves look egotistical on par with Manny Ramirez and A-Rod. By responding, the Nationals PR office validates the original comment and makes these Twitter taunts not only acceptable, but normal.
Tensions get heated as the season wears on. It’s not uncommon for players to get frustrated and act out. Occasionally, the team spokespeople get heated as well. Hawk Harrelson, announcer for the White Sox, apologized last season for ranting against an umpire after a call against them during a Tampa Bay Rays game. He still retracted his comments – even if he wasn’t happy about it.
Possibly the worst part about this exchange is that it was completely intentional. When Chrysler’s social media manager profanely tweeted about terrible Detroit drivers, he had meant to post the comment on his personal account. The tweet from the Braves was meant for the entire fan base to see. So far the Braves have tweeted 10 times since the one above, none of which have been apologies or retractions.
While there are far worse comments made by players than the one made by the Braves social media staff, this isn’t a good precedent to set for professional sports accounts. A league that prides itself on promoting integrity, sportsmanship, and character shouldn’t lead the nation towards social media insults.
Brawls on the field usually last a minute or two, but social media punches last forever. Even brands that delete Tweets like the Nationals did will find that the black mark lives on in screenshots, embedded posts, and retweets. Content managers need to think twice before they try to use humor or wit on social media – especially on behalf of a brand – there are too many ways it can go south and bite them in the back later on.
Do you think the Braves should apologize for the tweet or ride out the storm? Did they cross a line or was it just smack talk?