North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

How real is too real for athletes?

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Social networking has brought fans, writers, bloggers and even athletes closer and more intertwined then ever before. We don’t live in an age where you mail a letter (with self addressed stamped envelope included) to an athlete and maybe receive something back a few months later, but one where we can see people like Chris Bosh shoot home movies or Shaq, Steve Nash or Brandon Jennings microblog on Twitter.

Well, we used to see Jennings anyway.

Jennings twitter account, Bjennings3, was taken down some point over this weekend, likely after an appearance on rapper (and friend of Jennings) Joe Budden’s webcast. There, an unguarded Jennings made several off-colour comments about the Knicks, Ricky Rubio and ESPN analyist Jay Bilas.

But what happened isn’t really a question about wither Jennings’ comments were right or wrong. It’s about if we’ve hit a tipping point, a moment where this free access to (and by) superstars has shown too much of what’s behind the curtain, was it were.

I do think that Jennings should have watched what he said. He’s a public figure and he should have realized that anything he says – even in a private conversation – could come back and bite him.

Granted, watching the video of his interview with Budden gives the impression that Jennings may not have known he was live. But he knew Budden hosted an online show and he had appeared on it previously. On June 22, he tweeted “Out with Joe Budden. Tryin get on Joebuddentv tonight. This finna be a funny night.” To me, that shows he knew Budden had a live show and by calling him, he should have at least thought in the back of his mind that whatever he says could end up online.

Really, though, Jennings made a dumb mistake. A small one. He talked some trash, said some things that I’d assume most every athlete would say in private. Remember, they say Jordan and Bird were legendary trash talkers, Tiger has a sharp, biting wit and Wayne Gretzky once told novelist Mordecai Richler he didn’t read his books because he didn’t have time to read stuff that didn’t happen.

As one writer put it, it’s a confidence thing. That’s how they got to where they are – their confidence in themselves. Of course they’re going to talk smack about the opposition. The question is where they do it. They can say whatever they want in private and in public they’re almost coached to never say anything remotely controversial.

But with the social mediums now out there, where is the line between public and private? Shaq and Charlie V made waves with twitter accounts that further reduced the gap between them and us, the fans. This isn’t somebody blogging through a ghost writing PR agent. And that’s the rub – with less barriers between them and us, it’s easier for them to slip up.

Which is what I think happened to Jennings: he either forgot or didn’t realize that his friend could have been broadcasting the conversation and he said some mildly regrettable things. He slipped up and when he did it was out there for all to see.

It’s regrettable, yes, but it’s also minor. It’s only another anecdote of how athletes need to balance their private lives with their social lives. There’s a fine line between being accessible and open to fans and exposing too much of your private self.

Still, if there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that Jennings – and every other athlete, by extension – is a public figure. Anything they say, even in what they think is a private conversation, can come back and haunt them, be it over the phone, on Twitter or an email.

After all, it’s a lot easier to think about what you’re saying (and who you’re saying it to) then it is to try and un-say it.

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Written by M.

June 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm

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