Friday, August 10, 2007

We Are the Champions

Recently, The Los Angeles Times ran a piece about mass market sports, public relations, and the Internet in "Athlete link to their own 'Truth' on the Internet." Among these spin control mechanisms, from MySpace pages to fan sites maintained by the major league francises, perhaps the most interesting is the genre of an athlete's personal web log.

C. J. Nitkowski, a former big league baseball player who now pitches professionally in Japan, was a pioneer among athlete bloggers. He started his website,, a decade ago.

"The advantages are clearing up misquotes, controlling a story that may be important, and the chance to interact with fans directly," he said. "[But] also having complete unedited access to the world needs to be treated carefully. Speaking your mind is a nice freedom, but sometimes it's not always a good thing."

The piece quotes University of Kansas professor Nancy Baym about possible pitfalls in cultivating an Internet persona.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.D. Durbin apologized for crudely announcing his fondness for female body parts on his MySpace page. Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson did the same after posting a racially offensive photo on teammate Brandon McCarthy's page. And Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas drew the ire of NBA officials after blogging about $10 bets he made with fans during a game.

NBA officials fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for criticizing referees on his blog. And NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb was left defending his mother, Wilma, after she wrote that it was "bittersweet" to watch backup Jeff Garcia succeed in leading the Philadelphia Eagles while her son recuperated from an injury.

"There's a fine line between being candid and getting yourself in trouble, and it depends a lot on what your image is," said Nancy Baym, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. "There is a reason professionals usually handle that stuff."

Certainly, slick professionals seem to be handling what I find to be one of the most fascinating examples of Internet spin control in sports, the blog of record-breaking slugger and suspected user of banned substances Barry Bonds. Right now, Barry's Journal reads like a well rehearsed Academy Awards speech in which Bonds thanks Hank Aaron, his family, and his corporate sponsors (in that order), as he eulogizes those associated with his record-breaking home run. In the past, his blog has been used to counter the media's coverage of his hot-headed response to criticism from sportscaster Bob Costas. Instead of commenting on his own temper tantrum, it's a dispassionate critique of the professionalism of Costas.

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