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$111M Good Reasons to Cancel Your Twitter Account

Need a good reason to cancel your Twitter account? Well, Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards basketball team may have about $111M reasons to do so.

Last Thursday, following his indefinite suspension from the National Basketball Association in the wake of a gun-related altercation with a teammate, Arenas canceled his Twitter account. His tweeting had factored somewhat into his suspension and, under his father’s advice, he canceled his account so as not to be tempted to make matters worse.

Arenas had originally issued an apology for the gun incident through his lawyer in the requisite save-face (and career) kind of way that we have all grown tired of hearing from athletes and celebrities. (Wasn’t it Tiger Woods just a few weeks ago?) But Arenas was simultaneously tweeting about the whole incident, mocking the legal outcry and making light of the incident in ways that were not so funny to NBA commissioner David Stern. Quotes from the tweets made the paper and commissioner Stern, who is extremely cognizant of the NBA’s image and its revenue producing (or reducing) power, got wind of it and was not amused. Arenas’s subsequent behavior included a front page photo of him mimicking shooting his fellow teammates with his fingers while being introduced before a game. This time he really got Stern’s attention.

Up to that point, Stern had been willing to reserve judgment until the authorities performed their formal investigation. Following Arenas’s antics, Stern decided that he was “not fit to be on a basketball court” and imposed the suspension. Stern saw it as the ultimate flagrant foul, and had a tweet of his own to deliver.

Of course, it wasn’t really the tweeting that got Gil into the mess he’s in. It was the act itself, not only the crime of bringing guns into Washington, DC but also into an NBA arena, which is considered a workplace and thus in violation of NBA policy even if guns had been legal in the city itself. But even if it is the incident itself that ultimately determines his fate, Gil’s wild west photo along with his tweets were every bit the reason Stern suspended him prior to the completion of the criminal investigation. He is now sitting at home, suspended without pay.

(Incidentally, the Wizards organization has since removed all signs and pictures of Arenas from the Verizon Center. I witnessed them remove the gigantic banner that was hanging outside the arena on 6th street, which ironically had the word “character” in the banner’s message. I was at the Georgetown game Saturday and couldn’t find a single picture of Arenas anywhere, at least not in the public’s view. The Pollin family, still owners of the team and the arena despite the recent death of longtime owner Abe Pollin (who must be turning over in his grave considering he changed the team’s name from “Bullets” to “Wizards” in an effort to be sensitive to gun violence), were also not amused by Gil’s antics.)

Other athletes and celebrities have taken to the whole tweeting craze, and most of it is harmless fun, but one wonders what their motives are and if there is more risk than reward, if any at all.

Earlier this fall, a Washington Redskins player over-tweeted by criticizing fans who had earlier booed the Redskins off the field following the Rams game, a (rare) Redskin victory, but one in which they played pathetically (foreshadowing the rest of the season) and deserved to lose. The player subsequently apologized, presumably from internal pressure from Redskins management, but the damage to the player’s image was done. Those tweets also made the papers. At least in that case, there were no legal or financial consequences for the player, only image damage control.

The point is, are we communicating way too much now? With all the technology at our disposal, from cell phones to instant messaging to texting to email to tweets to blogging to Skype to Facebook, are we really any better off? Or has all the communication become not only a virtual leash, often an invasion of privacy or at least our spare time, but also a new avenue for inadvertently exposing ourselves?

The Internet has made communication easier and more convenient than ever. Technology has provided the means to communicate simply and quickly not only with family, friends and colleagues but also to the masses via blogs and tweets. We can now network socially and re-connect with friends we lost touch with decades ago. We can video teleconference across continents in a Jetsons-like manner for free. We are constantly in contact and accessible through one means or another. With every technological advance, we seem to wonder how we lived so long without it.

But any technology can be abused, or at least used stupidly. Each of us has probably sent a rash email that we regretted about 1 second after we hit “send”. You may have been witness to the political damage someone does to themselves in the workplace with the inadvertent “reply all” containing words that were targeted to a more select audience. We have read stories of recruiters scouring Facebook and rejecting job applicants based on the photos and other data they find. We feel anxiety when we are without our mobile phones for five minutes yet we sometimes cringe when it rings at an inopportune moment, or we cringe when we are forced to listen to one side of someone’s phone call while on an elevator or the subway.

Despite the popularity of Twitter, I have wondered what we really intend to gain from these 140-character blurbs. More to the point, I wonder what celebrities intend to gain by sending such messages, especially if they are ill advised and off the cuff. Do they long for direct contact with their fans and the general public because they are fed up with the media taking their quotes out of context and slanting their message to fit whatever story they are writing? OK, fine, but that only works if your own internal editor does a better job.

Gilbert Arenas is in the second year of a 6-year $111M deal, with over $90M remaining on the contract. His suspension, to the tune of $147K per game, may just be the beginning of his troubles. In the wake of Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress (still in prison), it’s no joke. Arenas may face criminal charges, prison time, a long NBA suspension or lifetime ban from the league, and the voiding of the remaining value of his contract. At a minimum he can wave goodbye to his endorsements along with his image. (If Tiger Woods is losing endorsements following his marital infidelity, who besides Smith and Wesson might endorse Arenas?) Those punishments may be invoked regardless of Arenas’s post-incident antics, but his public tweeting certainly didn’t score him any points with authorities who often consider a person’s character when rendering judgment.

Politicians, professional athletes and other celebrities embarrassing themselves is nothing new. The list is long and distinguished. But such faux pas used to be contained to what the newspapers or television caught, often inadvertently, and often with plausible deniability due to questionable verification of the source. Now, technology has provided celebrities the ability to initiate public contact, to permanently set the record in their own words and, potentially, to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot (or in the knee as this case almost was.) It may seem entertaining, and perhaps for the most part that’s all it is. But when their livelihood and freedom are at stake, not to mention $111M, perhaps they should be more careful.

I can tell you that there is at least one (potentially former) NBA player who wishes he had been.

By Dan Campbell, President, Millennia Systems, Inc.

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Demonizing the Medium Robert Cannon  –  Jan 14, 2010 3:40 PM

So if Arenas had done the same in a telegraph, then we should all not use telegraph??  And when athletes (speaking of the recent Big Mac admissions) make silly statements in tell-all books, then we should all not use books?  My understanding is that some people say really stupid things while standing around the water cooler - therefore we need to ban water coolers!

Sorry, this is misdirected demonization of the medium.  What about the use of Twitter during the Iran election?  What about the use of Twitter right now to get info out about Haiti (dont actualy know if that is happening)?  What about the use of Twitter to push out immediate notice of transportation disruption by the subway system? What about the 10,000 positive uses of new media?

As Caesar stated, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  The fault is not with the medium.  The medium is an enabler.  The fault is with ourselves.  If we are dorks, the medium enables us to be stupid.  If we are noble, the medium can enable magnificence.

The Person, Not The Medium, is at fault Ram Mohan  –  Jan 14, 2010 4:01 PM

Let us not confuse the medium with the individual’s intemperate actions.

The logic doesn’t add up - if he did not tweet, he would have gained $111m?

Respect the Medium Dan Campbell  –  Jan 14, 2010 4:21 PM

If he didn't tweet - and also that stupid pre-game antic, it's hard to tell how much of either played into Stern's decision - indeed he may still be playing and would not be forfieting $147K per game right now. He would be getting paid right now regardless of future legal action, if any. Now he's aggrevated the situation and made matters worse, and he's causing the commissioner (and maybe the Feds) to start judging based on their emotions, anger, rather than just assessing the crime and the appropriate punishment. He blew it. Don't get me wrong. Alot of pro athletes are knuckleheads that will somehow find a way to embarrass themselves and create trouble for themselves through one medium or another. Usually it's through the press and TV interviews. But self induced? He really should have been more careful and taken it more seriously.

Indeed the fault is with ourselves Dan Campbell  –  Jan 14, 2010 4:16 PM

Your last point is exactly what I’m saying.  Essentially we are saying the same thing, and I didn’t intend to demonize the technology.  I use email, cell phones, Internet access, blogging (obviously), Facebook among other technologies on a daily basis.  These things have created a living for me.  (Don’t think the irony of my very own blog post was lost on me at all, about potentially over-communicating or mis-communicating, while using a technical medium that I may be subtley criticizing if you lump blogging in with the rest of what I mentioned.  I thought about jokingly calling myself out on it in the article, but the post was too wordy already.  My internal editor quit years ago! ;-)

But as I said, technology advancement is usually great and “can enable magnificence” as you say.  It often does.  But it can easily be abused or used stupidly.  Nuclear power comes to mind quickly.  Even the Arenas gun incident itself is an example, that is, if you believe in our right to have guns and subscribe to the theory that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  For self defense, hunting, collecting, etc., fine.  But threatening a co-worker with a weapon even as a joke is illegal, a violation of workplace rules, and just plain stupid, especially when you consider that in retaliation Crittendon loaded his weapon and chambered a bullet.  Arenas could very well be dead right now.  How stupid would that have been?  The point is, use the technologies with some caution and respect for what can happen if you don’t.  There are plenty more examples other than Arenas, including politicians.  To each his own but, it’s up to you, but frankly, if I’m a celebrity or someone in the public’s eye with alot of money, image and status on the line, it might be best just to opt out considering that there may be more risk than reward.  What on earth did Arenas expect to gain by tweeting out messages in direct contrast to his formal “apology” and antogonizing both the commissioner and probably the Feds as well?  Neither likes to be mocked.  And he is already paying the first of what will likely be many a “price”.

@Dan - agreed Ram Mohan  –  Jan 14, 2010 4:21 PM

Thanks for the response.  We’re in sync.

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