The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Trick or Tweet


The phenomenon known as Twitter has hit the mainstream. People from all walks of life from the famous to the infamous, from the common to the celebrity from the athlete to the entertainer are all practicing, experimenting and participating. As with any new fad, it will be interesting to see if Twitter has the staying power of the Frisbee, Snowboard or home computer or will become just another footnote fad in history like the afro, XFL, or VCR. As with any new invention, the tender balancing act of where the line needs to be drawn of when how much is too much or too little. Players in the NFL have begun to make noise about actually Twittering during games to their legions of fans. While, perhaps legally acceptable according to the First Amendment of the United State Constitution, the detriment to the integrity of the game and the sport itself means that players should abstain during actual competition from such activity.

The NFL since the years of Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle up through the eras of Paul Tagliabue and now Roger Goodell has always battled with the balancing act between individualism and the No Fun League and has usually erred on the side of limiting fun. In many instances the leagues restrictions have been over bearing such as the touchdown celebrations and the requirements on the height of game socks; however restricting players from tweeting during the games seems appropriate. The current NFL League rules prevent uses of cell phones or other communication devices on the sideline, so they could fine him based on league rules.

From a football perspective, the NFL always has to careful of opening up Pandora's Box and risk turning NFL games into a media circus. While the game is both sport and entertainment, there is always a fine balancing act between both that has made the NFL so popular and successful. I would hate to see Twitter turn the NFL into the XFL, where there are two shows going on, one on the field, and one on the sidelines. Players are putting on their own show while they are on the sidelines during the game, whether it be by twitter, cell phone, video cameras in phones or laptops, it's just not good for the NFL, and devalues the brand name.

Coaches at any level, high school, college, NFL, would and should never allow a player to talk on a phone, type on a computer, tweet or anything else that is a distraction away from a game. When a player is not on the field, his focus should be 100% on the game, whether it is talking to coaches or teammates, looking at photos of the game, or watching the game. At a minimum, he should at least create that perception, even if he is zoned out. Same thing during halftime, there is limited time and his focus should be with the team, listening to his coaches, talking to trainers, equipment managers, teammates, hydrating, resting, etc. I would imagine that any comments a player wants to make about what happens during the game could be reserved for post-game tweeting.

From a legal perspective, the balancing act is between the first amendment and the League's right to control the actions of players on the sidelines during the game. The Commissioner has broad discretion to discipline players for taking actions that diminish the integrity of the game. "Any form of conduct reasonably judged by the League Commissioner to be detrimental to the League or professional football." There is very little difference between talking on a cell phone and texting or Tweeting. In addition, since most cell phones and laptops have built in cameras, you get into the whole using cameras or other equipment on the sidelines, also not permitted by the NFL. There is also the problem that what if a player were to twitter they were hurt and coming out of the game, thereby giving bettors information. We would not expect bus drivers or train conductors to Tweet or text during the performance of their jobs.

From the player's perspective, careers are short and the windows of opportunity slim to market themselves, build a brand and cash in on that fleeting fame. History shows that the players who built their brand with a solid foundation and with strong character and exemplary talent are the ones who stand the test of time. See Michael Jordan, Jerome Bettis, Joe Montana etc. The use of new wave marketing devices such as Twitter can no doubt increase player's exposures but does it increase a player's marketability or popularity? If a player is using Twitter for proper means and not ego gratification to disseminate substantial and worthwhile information then it might behoove a player to twitter during non-football hours. They will not lose any of their right or actually publicity and perhaps will gain the greater respect of their fans and the football public for having done so in a professional manner.

The reality is that NFL players are professionals and should endeavor to hold themselves out as being the best at their profession in the world and this means not only performing on the field as a professional but also acting like one while on the sideline, in the locker room and during public outings. While there is a time and the place for a player, if he so chooses, to inform the public, following of his every move, such thoughts should not occur during the execution of his profession or at the detriment of the positive public image of the league or the integrity of the game.

By Peter Schaffer  |  July 10, 2009; 8:04 AM ET  | Category:  Cincinnati Bengals , Peter Schaffer , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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