13 September ~ Twitter has provided joy to many of thousands of football fans in this technological age. The site acts as a news source as well as a means of bringing players and fans closer together, offering supporters an insight into the world of professional footballers. Whether it be instant score updates, the news that Leon Knight is looking to invest in a mahogany chessboard or Michael Owen sharing his love of professional wrestling, Twitter has the potential to both inform and entertain.
However, for all the brilliance of Twitter, it also provides unfortunate moments where footballers remind us all why they are generally regarded so poorly by the public. Liverpool striker Nathan Eccleston's tweets describing the September 11 terrorist attacks as an "accident" are sadly yet another example of a footballer not thinking before expressing his views. Eccleston compounded his error by writing: "I aint going to say attack don't let the media make u believe that was terrorist that did it."
While Eccleston is entitled to his opinion, he displayed a horrendous lack of judgment, not only through the timing of his messages, on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, but also by expressing those views to thousands of followers and a worldwide audience. Although the young forward later deleted the posts in question, the damage to his image was caused instantly. The messages provoked anger on Twitter, attracted the attention of the tabloid press and will now be subject to an investigation by his club.
It's easy to draw parallels between Eccleston's actions and those of NFL player Rashard Mendenhall, who caused anger across America with comments he made on Twitter following the death of Osama Bin Laden. Mendenhall later deleted the messages but he still felt the impact of his own words. The posts whipped up a media frenzy, damaging the player's image and costing him at least one lucrative sponsorship deal. The Steelers also moved to disassociate themselves with Mendenhall's views, although he avoided disciplinary action. Other stars have been less fortunate. In 2009, fellow NFL star Larry Johnson was released by the Kansas City Chiefs following a homophobic slur he directed at a heckler on Twitter.
The popularity of Twitter among American footballers has lead to the NFL adopting a social media policy which players must adhere to. However, at present, this simply amounts to a ban on stars tweeting during games. With an increasing number of footballers in this country stirring up controversies on social networks, either clubs or the FA may soon be forced to act. If a footballer cannot be trusted to think of the consequences before they post their opinions, it is perhaps only a matter of time before someone takes that decision out of their hands. Pete Ellender