As previous social media posts have resurfaced, prominent athletes have been forced to publicly apologize in waves; at the same time, sports agents have undertaken emergency Twitter work — excavating, scrutinizing and deleting indiscretions and ignorance of times past.
Agents from a range of sports sectors say recent headlines have had athletes diving into their Twitter histories, searching for anything controversial that may have been sitting forgotten at the bottom of their feeds. An NBA team has even reached out to representatives of its players, says one agent, calling for a “deep dive” through social media history. “If you told someone a month ago they need to look into this stuff, they’d say OK, whatever,” one agent says, “ but you tell them right now, I think it has everyone’s attention.”
The reaction, while alarmist, seems like a good strategy in the wake of headlines surrounding a trio of baseball players. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Josh Hader, Atlanta Braves’ Sean Newcomb, and Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner have all been found to have used offensive language in posts. At the time of the tweets, their comments flew under the radar; today, they have been exhumed by sleuthers and caused untold harm to the image of the players and their teams. Nick Chanock, senior vice president of baseball with the Wasserman agency, said the recent revelations sparked “a lot of dialogue” within the agency and among its clients. “We’re having active discussions with all our players,” says Chanock.
The examples of Hader, Newcomb, and Turner were unfortunate, he says, but “we have to use them as an educational tool for our players.” Several other agents have described their vetting process for potential clients, “we’re looking at stuff before they sign,” says one, and their responsibility once they formally represent an athlete. They say it’s not unusual to root out ill-considered posts on social media from the outset, often preferring to err on the side of caution. “The problem if we didn’t scrub anything, I don’t think it would be an issue, but as you know in this day and age, words are powerful,” says one agent. Scrolling through innumerable old tweets can be tedious: an advanced search is required for older tweets, and relying on keywords might leave a search incomplete.
There are third-party companies that specialize in hunting out offensive old posts, but players can be reluctant to turn over their passwords. As such, agents have turned to these latest headlines as a teaching opportunity for athletes, especially those young enough to be active on social media long before they are in the spotlight. “Our job is to help these guys and advise them,” says one representative, “the responsibility is theirs, but we’re here as a resource for them. In the end, it’s the player, it’s his timeline, it’s his responsibility.”
When it comes to PR in professional sports, social media is an emerging frontier of risk that needs managing. This summer may have been a rough one for baseball, but all professional sports sectors need to clean up their act — and fast.