Social media in sports and society

Stop. Look around you. How many people in your immediate vicinity are looking at some sort of screen? Most of them? All? Now think of the last time you went out to eat. When did it become normal to see people sitting on their phones at the table and not interacting with the person sitting to their side or across from them?

Now, before you start to think, “Oh this is just a crotchety old person writing about why technology is bad”, I’d like to tell you that I’m a 26 year-old female. I don’t think smartphones are completely detrimental to society. What scares me is when people stop interacting with the world around them.

“It’s a dark place. It’s not a healthy place.” J.J. Redick said of social media in a Bleacher Report article, ”It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego”—he pauses slightly—”if we’re talking about some Freudian shit. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

Too much screen time on social media platforms can create loneliness. If the only positive feedback you get is a “like” online then you might start to feel withdrawn. Online interaction through social media doesn’t produce the chemical oxytocin, which is what your brain needs to feel connected. It is responsible for social recognition and bonding and may be involved in the formation of trust between people and helps drive generosity.

Smartphone usage also invites texts from family, friends on group texts, agents and business managers into players’ lives at the wrong time. At the 2018 PAADS Athlete Development Summit, Stan Van Gundy talked about players getting texts in the locker room at halftime during games saying “You should be playing this way or that way.” On social media, people can come after you to tell you how poorly you played. It can weigh on a player. Through technology, athletes are more accessible to the public than ever before. This can be daunting for athletes as they try to find a sense of self. Players may forget the value of being present and introspective—without a device in hand.

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of several teams in the NBA that have tried to implement “phone buckets” or “phone bags” on occasion during team meals to encourage real conversations. J.J. Redick stated he’s been on teams where you literally don’t talk to each other at dinner. Just six guys on their phones.

Athletes should find a balance between screen time and other activities in their lives. Using their phones and social media in moderation and mindfully can help improve their mindsets. The Philadelphia Eagles are a great example of using their phones in a constructive manner by improving communication. They built a team culture so strong that propelled them to a 2017  Super Bowl win. This started with a few players doing something as simple as sending a text. Timmy Jernigan recalls being a member of the Eagles for just two hours before he got a message from veteran, Fletcher Cox. Those little gestures build up to make the locker room a more welcoming place.

Social media can be a positive force in sports too. A lot of athletes are using it to build their brands which is essential for a positive transition out of sports. Others are using it as a platform to speak on issues that they are passionate about. The NBA has used social media to draw in a younger and global fan base. At the 2017 Finals, the NBA issued 265 credentials to media members from 35 foreign countries. The league’s online presence plays a big role in the surge of popularity in the league that maintains a 12-month presence in the news cycle like no other U.S. sport. The NBA’s tally of 27 million Twitter followers is three million more than the NFL while LeBron James’ total of 41 million followers trails only Cristiano Ronaldo among worldwide athletes.

The negatives and positives of social media can weigh each other out if you avoid excessive use. Leave the phones in your bags at the half. Sign off of social media during the season to avoid internet trolls. Real human connection is necessary for a healthy balanced life. Remember to unplug every once in awhile.

Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.