Sometimes We Don't Want To Know

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the stories making the headlines across the world of sport.

Athletes and social media really has been a match made in heaven. Ridiculous and sublime in equal measure, but never dull. Athletes have always been some of our biggest role models, and the ability to get up close and personal in real time has been an absolute treat. Generally speaking, giving fans more access, more personality, more entertainment is a great thing, but there are exceptions. Sometimes, more isn't better. Sometimes we just don't want to know.

Which brings me to the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown. On Sunday night, on the back of the Steeler's victory over Kansas City in the NFL playoffs, Brown took to Facebook for a 17 minute (now deleted) Facebook Live from inside the locker room. It's an astonishingly candid real time look into a changing room straight after a huge win, but it also led to all hell breaking loose. That's because Brown's Facebook Live included filming his coach Mike Tomlin’s post game speech, with highlights including calling his opponents for next week ‘assholes’ and in a wonderfully ironic moment where the players were told to stay off social media this week. Queue large scale media backlash in the states, with the story even managing to get traction after a weekend of amazing NFL playoff games.

Facebook Live and the other live streaming services are the ultimate form of athlete real-time social media. There is literally no filter, as the athlete shares exactly what they see at any given time. It gives a perspective we could never have dreamed to have even 10 years ago. To see inside our favourite team’s locker room, see who they are as people and what they do to get motivated in real time. It’s the dream. So why such a negative backlash? Sure the language is a bit choice, but that’s no different from swearing being caught on the mic in a game broadcast, something that is fairly common place. There have been times in the past where an athletes focus on social media has been heavily criticised, but usually it’s because they said something particularly stupid (see Jolean Lescott and his misuse of twitter), not just for where they did it. So why has Brown been so criticised for taking us inside the locker room?

I think it’s because sometimes we just don’t want to know. Yes, this is an age where we crave every morsel of privileged access and information about our heroes, but sometimes we want a bit of mystery as well. When we do see footage of players or managers giving rousing pre-game or half time speeches it’s brilliant, but it is precisely because they give a view of sport that we don’t usually see that they are so good. There is something really romantic about the sanctity of a sport’s team changing room, about the unseen bond of players. But the key word is unseen. The reaction to Brown has been so strong because he’s seen as having crossed that unwritten rule about what is private and what is public. It’s the same rule that ostracised players who spoke to openly to the press in years past. Some things are for the public, some things should just be for the team. It upsets players in the team and for fans, it just feels wrong.

It seems then that Antonio Brown may have inadvertently found the line when it comes to athlete’s social media. Yes we want to see everything about their lives. But when it comes to team sports, and where we are given an access into the inner sanctum of their team, it can just seem wrong. It’s a lesson for everyone involved in marketing with athletes. Access to a team is a privilege, and if we are to get it, it needs to be handled with care by players or by the brands that work with them.


James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search