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Lesson in Rays-Twitter flap: Think before you hit send

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Published:   |   Updated: May 3, 2013 at 08:49 AM
TAMPA -

Sometimes, seemingly innocuous social media comments morph into large slips of the tongue for professional athletes.

With the popularity of social media in today's digital world, many top athletes take to their laptops or smartphones to offer insights into their daily lives and interact directly with fans.

Twitter is among the most popular social media tools — quick and easy, 140 characters.

But on occasion, that digital format offers up the chance for somebody to put their virtual foot in their mouth. And that footprint leaves a trail right back to them.

“Even if they tweet something and erase it a couple minutes later, the likelihood that somebody catches it, takes a screen shot of it, is fairly high,” said Marcus Messner, an assistant professor in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Situations where they didn't really think about what they were doing, they make a mistake, and of course they have a huge audience on these channels. … So, naturally, whatever mishap they have is seen right away.”

Tampa Bay Rays pitchers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are the most recent to experience that side of social media. Each was fined $1,000 by Major League Baseball on Thursday for violating the league's social media policy.

They took to their Twitter accounts after Sunday's game in Chicago to take on home plate umpire Tom Hallion, who Price said used a four-letter word when addressing Price during the game.

Hallion said he never used a curse word and called Price a liar.

Moore, who was in the dugout and said he heard the word Hallion used, was on his verified Twitter account (@MattyMoe55) shortly after the game, stating: “Unbelievable someone would mis remember so quickly. Stay in your lane. Nobody cares what you have to say. #tom”

Shortly after that, a fan warned Moore to be careful because he could be fined.

“How could that happen?” Moore replied.

Whoops.

It was a somewhat expensive way for Moore and the others involved to learn their social media posts are not quite as innocent as they seem. MLB policy prohibits players from posting anything that “questions the impartiality of or otherwise denigrates” an MLB official.

“I figured you couldn't say certain things,” Moore said. “I didn't know (what I tweeted) was exactly degrading.”

Many sports leagues and teams have instituted social media policies for players and staff.

The National Football League and National Basketball Association have policies in effect that ban players from sending out tweets 90 and 45 minutes before a game, respectively, until after postgame media obligations are fulfilled.

Violating that policy cost ex-NFL wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson $25,000 for sending a tweet after warm-ups and during the same preseason game. Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings was fined $7,500 when he sent out a tweet 15 minutes after a game ended praising his team for reaching the .500 level.

The National Hockey League does not have a social media policy, but Tampa Bay Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said all players get some social media training as part of their introduction to the team.

Rays manager Joe Maddon, who has a Twitter account, said the team addresses the use of social media with the players before the start of spring training, but he hopes this week's incident serves as an example of what can go wrong.

“I believe that maybe everybody's going to learn from this and hopefully going to be able to avoid it in the future, the fact that it's not the right way to go about disputing a situation,” Maddon said.

“There's a decorum that needs to be met. I know sometimes I might have crossed over the line myself or got close to it. Hopefully, I'm going to learn from it myself. Try to choose your words more carefully.”

The best policy for anybody, Messner said, is to think before hitting the send button: “You should take a deep breath before you engage in any social media while in a rage. Whenever you are in emotional distress, you should never turn to social media first.”


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

Reporter Roger Mooney contributed to this report.

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