How about some more exciting social media posts?

Are the pros and the media playing it too safe when it comes to social media?

| June 21, 2017 | NEWS

Chris McCormack was never afraid to offer up some controversy heading into an event.

Chris McCormack was never afraid to offer up some controversy heading into an event.

Photo >Jesper Gronnemark

Ah social media. Where would we be without it? It is arguably the greatest social life changer since the internet started. Australia (population 24 million) alone has 17+ million on Facebook, and over five million on twitter. So we know it is pervasive.

This weekend in Australia the Australian Football League (AFL) was thrown into a maelstrom of social media commentary when a player taunted an up and coming opposing player during the week leading up to the match. Opinions divided as to whether it was a good thing. For the record, the taunter’s team smashed the team of the tauntee.

So this got us thinking about the whole social media thing. I’ve been saying for long time that triathlon really lacks personality. Professionals all like each other and get along and are great people who swim bike and run. They enjoy the company of those they battle against. And, to a point, this is true and is something we like too. To a point. Now I’m not advocating a whole lot of taunting (but it would make for some interesting stories), but has the court of public opinion beaten down professionals for doing that?

You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, online. If you run the playbook like most pros, you take pics of your bike pre-race, or that same bike leaned up against a wall as you pedal around some idyllic countryside. Then there is those ridiculous recovery pics in the recovery booties  that are about as subtle a product placement as a sledgehammer. Pros are reluctant to do much more. Throw in the odd dog shot, etc. and you have the conventional triathlon social media package. It’s tame and safe and without risk.

There is a reason why we see this public-facing, carefully manicured digital life. Stick your head out too far and you are mercilessly trolled, torn down, or considered abrasive. It can happen in an instant. Sponsors, too, don’t like athletes who don’t have a "stable" community, so keeping things ticking over as per usual and in a "safe" way is the best play. Any time an athlete lets go and suddenly posts something out of that norm it is suddenly "news." We have been conditioned to "stay in our lane"  and play it safe for so long that social media is now blending. It all looks the same and sounds the same. Reporting on triathlon for the last decade if we ever wrote anything cross ways on the old firstoffthebike we would be hounded. The pros would reach out, managers would email and it became a bit of circus. Regardless of the fact that it was only an opinion. If the media calls you a bad performer on the day, they are not saying you’re a shot person, you just had a bad day. But that too seems to have been knocked out on the head. And professional sports people, too, must be careful in their own space to make sure they won’t become the next topic of discussion for the "wrong" reason.

I thought the AFL player’s social media effort (Tom Bugg) was sensational. It provided another side story on the day and gave a sense of theater to the occasion. Sure, it worked in his favour (winning), but it made the game so much more than another run of the mill fixture. And, at the end of the day, it was fun!

Is there room for more? I think so. Not that you want to degenerate into a social media version of the wild west, but more of that type of bravado would be great. At the end of the day we have not seen the likes of that sort of swagger in triathlon since Chris McCormack, who, at times, was confusing himself with a boxer. But it made a great show and, more often than not, he was able to back it up. If Twitter existed in the 80’s the Mark Allen and Dave Scott rivalry might have reached a new level.

Social media is about sharing the experience. But an artificial, filtered and contrived account is quickly just more digital noise. But there is also a fine line that the pros take when sharing their career. There has to be a balance, though, and good sporting theater should be applauded rather than jumped on.