Athletes Would Be Well-Advised To Take Heed Of This Weekend\’s Lessons On Public Behavior

By Matthew Marczi

If the events of the past two days have not been illuminating for professional athletes, particularly the young adults among them, then perhaps they should have been paying closer attention.

On Saturday, a jury of six ruled that George Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder nor manslaughter after an altercation last year that led to the death of Trayvon Martin. A number of players around the NFL, including those on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, voiced their opinions about the ruling on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Some, evidently, went a little overboard to the point where they received public backlash for their comments—enough that they, or their publicists, felt that it was warranted to issue a public apology for their remarks. Cases in point: Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants. Throw in Arizona Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu for good measure.

Each of these individuals took to Twitter to express their displeasure with the ruling. Which, in and of itself, is fine. Yet each crossed a dangerous boundary, especially for those in the public eye.

Victor Cruz intimated that Zimmerman may soon find himself a victim of retribution, saying that he “doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up to him”. Of course, he is not expressing a desire for violent harm on a personal level. Nevertheless, public figures are well-advised to steer well clear of suggesting such a thing.

Then there was Roddy White. White, who has a history of controversial statements, said that the “jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid”. Regardless of one’s feelings on the ruling, there is truly no excuse for statements like these in the public forum.

Lastly, there was Tyrann Mathieu, who said that the rulings “make you wanna scream free Aaron Hernandez”. Hernandez, of course, is the former New England Patriots tight end who is currently in federal custody following his arrest for the murder of an associate, and is under suspicion of two other murders from 2012.

Mathieu’s Tweet conveniently segues into the event most concerning to those who follow the Steelers this weekend. That is, of course, the surfacing of images of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother Mike Pouncey donning baseball caps with inscriptions that read “Free Hernandez”.

The Pounceys and Hernandez, of course, all played together in college in Florida, and were known to be friends. In other words, it is unlikely that they simply read Tyrann Mathieu’s Tweet and decided to kick it up a notch.

It is one thing to stick up for a friend, even in the face of absurd odds. The friends of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for example, still maintain his innocence. It is another matter, however, when you are a public figure whose every action is a direct reflection upon your employer. And the Steelers evidently thought it was significant enough to warrant a talk with the fourth year veteran.

There is a desire to say that it is surprising that these young athletes still do not understand how to conduct themselves in the public sphere, whether out in public or on social media, but the unfortunate truth is that it really is not surprising at all.

Young people from all walks of life could stand to take a course on common sense with social media. Lesson one: Twitter is not a personal text message to all of your friends and family. Every single thing that you say on these social media platforms is a matter of public record, and is a direct reflection of your person.

Think twice before you hit send and consider whether what you wrote is how you want to represent yourself. If somebody like Herm Edwards can understand this simple lesson so intuitively that he is able to preach it on a yearly basis to the league’s incoming rookies, then it should not be a difficult concept to grasp.

This also applies to public figures in the public sphere. You should know that at any opportunity, anything that you do can be quickly made into a headline. Such as wearing apparel in support of an alleged murderer. The Steelers already have enough experience with social media faux pas, but the reality is that this will not be the last one.

Please note that this is an article on the subject of using discretion in the public sphere for professional athletes. In no way does it mean to suggest that athletes should not be free to express themselves, or that they should necessarily risk discipline for being honest.

More importantly, this is most certainly not a political article, and in no way intends to express an opinion on the guilt or innocence of either George Zimmerman or Aaron Hernandez. Remember, this is a football website. Let’s keep the political discussions out of the comments section.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • SteelSpine

    It wouldn’t surprise me if most the players/people protesting the outcome of the Zimmerman case had zero knowledge of facts of that case, it’s like Mendenhall’s tweets. The attorneys who were in that courtroom said there was a witness to Zimmerman-Martin who saw the entire crime. That one & only witness was the landowner of who’s property that occurred on. The landowner under oath testified he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, pummelling Martin. Only one witness, he’s under oath, & reportedly believable. I detest wannabe cops (which Zimmerman was indicated to be), but pummelling them is thuggery.

  • Paul

    Is it me or does it seem that only NFL players made fools of themselves on twitter?

    Love the new format

  • TJimmy

    Athletes have freedom of speech like anyone else, but if their views on Twitter and elsewhere (e.g. Rashard Mendenhall) are so controversial or unpopular so as to reflect poorly on a team and cause them to lose fans/business, they will have to learn to keep their opinions to themselves.

    It’s amazing though how people who happen to play a football game for a living get so scrutinized.

  • DoctorNoah

    (A) I was an idiot when I was 23, and probably ran off my mouth all the time, and I just thank God that Twotter wasn’t around then to capture and preserve for posterity all the stupid crap I said. I feel for today’s youth who have this utterly inflated sense of the worth of their opinions, and who have such limited in-person social networks that they feel like they have to yell out into the twittersphere….

    (B) if you are a member of a professional sports team, your statements reflect on that team, just as your actions do, and you can easily be construed as a mouthpiece for the organization. Hence, While your speech may be protected, your job is on the line, should your opinions cast enough negative light on the organization.

    (C) why are NFL players even allowed to have twitter feeds? Why isn’t it a standard contract item that players will not comment on current events through public mouthpieces?

  • Shea Fahr

    They probably are scrutinized because they have a fan base with a lot of emotional and financial investment in them. ie. Jerseys, merchandise, NFL ticket packages ect…

  • Shea Fahr

    Great Points!

  • Steeldave

    My Twitter hurts


    a…technology. It’s how we choose to use it that can be for good or problematic.

    b…no, your statements are your statements, period. They have no reflection on the team unless the player was using team facilities, etc. to deliver the statement. If a players says something the employer doesn’t like, they must deal with whatever consequences are in place.

    c…”allowed”…really? I get your point, but players have always said or done things that their teams may not like…this a just new medium. A contract with a muzzle as you’re suggesting will never get past the NFLPA…this circles back to “b”.