Thoughts on NHL Players on Twitter

When Mike Commodore signed with the Red Wings last summer, he became the first active Detroit player with a Twitter account, offering Wings fans insight into the life of one of their own. He was followed by Cory Emmerton, who joined the social networking service in September and made the team in October.

It is undeniable that many fans want the kind of access to players that this provides. Without it, we wouldn’t have moments such as the one that happened earlier this week, when forward Tomas Tatar scooped the Wings’ beat writers and the team itself by Tweeting “Called up.:) #Redwings” (and later announcing his demotion with “thanks for support.Fans are awesome.unfortunately #senddown”).

Within an organization like Detroit, where the players are historically hard to connect with, it provides an opportunity to see a player’s thoughts that never existed before. Depending on the player and how he uses Twitter, it can also mean the chance to interact with an actual Red Wing, as both Commodore and Emmerton (and other Red Wings prospects) are known to reply to some posts.

While fans gain unprecedented access, players are opened up to feedback they may have never asked for. The loudest voices on the Internet are rarely the most level-headed. One bad play and a player on Twitter could be subjected to a torrent of criticism.

Take, for example, the case of Eric Nystrom. On September 30, Nystrom – then of the Minnesota Wild – went into the boards with Taylor Fedun of the Edmonton Oilers. Fedun suffered a broken femur and fans who blamed Nystrom set on him via Twitter. I won’t say that those fans represent a majority but it has to be acknowledged that they exist. Nystrom did what he could to deal with them, explaining his point of view in the allotted 140 characters.

Should he have had to? He chose to open himself up to that, no one made him sign up. A prerequisite for players on Twitter seems to be thick skin. It’s unfair to them but without it, you have the scenario that occurred on Saturday night.

Did the fan cross the line? Absolutely. Is it acceptable for a player to reply like that?

We hold our athletes to a higher standard. In Detroit, on the Red Wings, that standard was set long ago by Steve Yzerman and carried on by Nicklas Lidstrom. The kind of players who wouldn’t say that to a fan. Also the kind of players who wouldn’t put themselves in that position in the first place, as they wouldn’t use Twitter.

It’s also worth noting that, in the lead-up to that exchange, Commodore was posting during the Red Wings’ 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Even as a healthy scratch, that’s a violation of the NHL’s new social media policy, quite possibly the first such violation on record.

In the end, I say, no, it is not acceptable for a player to respond that way. If he can’t keep his mouth shut, he shouldn’t be on Twitter. We want a look into the life of a player but we also want to hold them to a higher standard. Sometimes these goals will conflict. In my opinion, the higher standard will always win.

Whether they like it or not, athletes are role models. Mike Commodore telling a fan off or Patrick Kane fighting with a cab driver belie that image. It’s not always fair to the players for us to expect so much of them but it’s just how it is. We know that some fans are jerks. We don’t want to see players prove that they’re no different.

Update – 12/18, 10:40 PM:
I didn’t get a chance to mention this earlier today but, for the sake of completeness, it’s important to note the following exchange:

Fantastic to see the apology from both sides. I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume it was all truthful.

Commodore has also deleted the original post. I’m not sure where I stand on that. I’ve deleted Tweets before myself but never after such a long time. It seems like rewriting history. But that’s an issue for another day.

I still contend that players are going to be held to a higher standard than fans, and as such will have to watch what they say on Twitter. In this case, though, I guess we can go with “All’s well that ends well.”

Author: Clark Rasmussen

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.

DetroitHockey.Net is not officially affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings organization or the National Hockey League

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