The basic foundation of sports fandom means debate and irrationality. Deeper analysis hasn’t always been something that’s appreciated. It hasn’t even been readily available until recently for those seeking an improved understanding about how their favorite sport operates. No, being a fan of any team at it’s root level, once meant having the cliche bar debate about arguments that at their core, don’t matter or aren’t based in logic. These could range from having aimless debates about player comparisons from drastically different eras (Michael Jordan versus LeBron James), unrealistic trades that would only make sense in video game franchise modes, or the timeless classics such as who exactly would win in a fight: Mike Ditka or (plot twist) a Hurricane named Ditka.
Social media’s explosion has amplified these ultimately meaningless conversations once had in private with friends or fellow bar patrons, to be immediately accessible at your fingertips. The craziest ideas and theories are now shared, without filter, for all to see on places such as Twitter. In fact, especially Twitter or as should be properly coined “Sports Twitter”: one of the most unstable places in a perennially and increasingly unstable world of social media.
What happens when you mix people who only know each other through glowing screens not thinking comments through and the inherent intense dedication of following a sport?Absolute chaos that now partly drives a modern sports industry.
Because without fans’ dedication and rose-colored glasses pertaining to the team they root for, much of sports journalism would have no detractors. An admittedly peaceful ideal, but not a sound one. The “hot take” artists wouldn’t exist, as they wouldn’t have anyone to share, disagree, or agree with their opinions. There would be almost be too much common sense, if that makes sense. Even with the existence of level-headed analysis, this still exists. What would level-headed analysis be without fundamentally proving wrong the driving force of a lack of logic?
Direct access to millions of other fans exposes one to the lunacy of the trademarked bar debate on a daily schedule. It compels one to either contribute their own sports thoughts born out of sheer lunacy, or to “retweet with comment” and share the levity of ridiculousness of a deal only things such as Madden NFL’s hand-picked computer would accept.
Though, without any of it, the very fabric of being a sports fan who consumes sports content wouldn’t exist.
Get out of your comfort zone
Dez Bryant was released by the Cowboys on Friday. Seeing as how Bryant has been one of the most productive receivers of the new millennium, this is a high profile move that the insanity of “Sports Twitter” lives for. Especially “football Twitter” of which subjectively can be the most volatile of all sports on the count of the NFL being such a nationally spanning league. Of the four major American sports leagues, the NFL is still the only league where you can largely say that a good portion of fans care about national storylines and actually watch other games not limited to their individual team.
So when a release of someone like Bryant happens, jokes from every corner ensue. The rapid 280 character analysis comes along. The reaction articles are penned. And the tweets to sign Bryant like any once properly acclaimed star arrive.
My goodness, these tweets take the cake in the expanded sports bar debate we know as Twitter.
Immediately after Bryant’s release, as with any former star (yes, Bryant is a former star) come the “Insert My Team should sign Player A!” tweets. This happens all the time, regardless of fit, recent off-season moves, you name it. The fact that these sentiments even have to be argued against for a second, proves how rooted they are in sports culture.
Sometimes, they’re not to necessarily actually sign the player, but to have a respective team think about it. To consider the possibility as to start a conversation that is obviously going nowhere before it starts. Or, to drive clicks to a website and traffic to a Twitter profile that doesn’t want to do any hard-hitting analysis with substance. They would rather do it the cheap way, which of course falls apart in the end every time once it’s realized that their respective account has nothing unique to offer on it’s own.
The only people who can’t see this, are those who originally tweet about signing the player, because they are obsessed in any idea they believe helps their team from a casual perspective.
That’s the important designator here: casual.
Fans gravitate to big names such as Bryant because these are names they are familiar with, casually. Not because that player is good, or talented, or has a skill set that matches their team, but because they know him. They’ve seen him make acrobatic catches or powerful sacks. They look at his career box scores. Once this is done, tunnel vision sets in. All they can see is a star! “Sign him!”
It’s easier to discuss a comfortable name than unproven talents, such as in the draft. It’s simpler to understand players already understood because they’ve proven themselves. Any context of why a player was released is ignored. Any idea of what that player is capable of in his current state, not what he’s done before, is conveniently forgotten.
In sports, signing any player to any contract should primarily center on the question of “what are you going to do for me in the future?”. Not, “what have you done for me lately?”. And definitely not “you’ve done everything in the past”.
Instead, any athlete that has remotely proven to be good slots in seamlessly everywhere, because of course they do. Context be damned.
Fuel to the fire
Unfortunately, there are too many with a higher and more famous reach that would rather add to this player addition, hot take fire. No one wants to put it out. That’s bad for business. No one wants to consider locker rooms or remaining on-field ability. That takes time and effort.
For one, these obvious “No-Men” as I’ll call them in major platform sports personalities, know that it’s incredibly straightforward to throw in a metaphorical grenade into Twitter and a volatile online atmosphere as a whole. Fans are predisposed to eating up the similar sentiments of people with larger platforms because they agree with them. It’s always “someone popular agrees with me!” in these situations, so they’re right in their analysis.
Sometimes, it’s because they want to disagree with them and attack them for their assessment, which is how these figures have staked their careers. Whether or not anyone agrees with their analysis doesn’t matter. The fact that they have garnered attention means their job is done.
More often than not, these are the people that irresponsibly link released big name players to teams that have no business signing that specific player. Because they can, because it’s easy, and because it requires no other critical thinking.
When this gets worse, is when those mentioned team faces, meaning the athletes, get involved in the fun.
On Friday, more than a handful of NFL players publicly tweeted Bryant’s Twitter handle with some assortment of them “recruiting”. If we know one thing, a player tweeting anything at a current free agent means that they are surely recruiting and not just laying down on the couch firing off what sounds good in their head while bored.
Which handful of active players did this in regards to Bryant, you ask?
Well, the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill vaguely discussed Bryant’s jersey number in Kansas City. The Bengals’ Chris Baker used a team slogan. The Bears’ Danny Trevathan went off with colloquial Internet speak to tell Bryant to “hit him up”. The Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey was as direct as possible. To the most extreme, the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins posted a photoshopped picture of Bryant in a Houston uniform, while the recently signed Tyrann Mathieu piggybacked that addition.
This isn’t the full list of players that “recruited” Bryant. It’s merely a sample size with each containing similar replies from fans consisting of emojis, agreement, and general adoration for a player’s truly intensive work to bring a big name to town. As if any work they do on the sports bar of Twitter matters in that light. As if these team faces have any say in personnel decisions. Team faces meaning guys wearing laundry of which fans root for and nothing else.
A disconnected thought to have, but a correct one nonetheless.
The general rule of thumb here is that if an athlete on your favorite team tweeted about a high profile player you’re familiar with, your team should now sign that player. That’s because, that player rules and your team rules. No other further examination clearly necessary in these cases. Like a match to a keg of gunpowder.
An improved conversation
I’m not going to sit here and tell anyone how to be a fan. If people enjoy their ludicrous trade scenarios, and revel in the ideas of acquisitions that have no chance of happening, more power to them. It’s too late to reverse that trend.
The beauty of following sports is that everyone consumes them how they want as they see fit. Whatever fits a person’s prerogative and how they understand sports should be how they talk about it. It’s a fruitless endeavor to argue with someone who has found a successful method of joy in their fandom.
However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be an urging to be better and smarter as consumers of sports. To not be so reactionary with the daily ebb and flow that Twitter and greater social media gives us access to. To always consider how respective parts of your proposed player scenarios legitimately fit, instead of immediately throwing them out into the wind and hoping someone agrees.
Part of consuming sports as a fan means being irrational. That’s why people follow their teams for years waiting for gratification in the form of results that might never come. Part of consuming sports on social media means continually placing yourself in a medium of like-minded people that feel compelled to occasionally drive you crazy if you disagree with them. The differences in sensible arguments can range, such as jumping to conclusions about player releases, but the fact remains the same.
Ultimately, while this could be seen as idealizing, part of consuming sports now should mean taking the traditional bar room debate - wherever it is - and filling it to the brim with logic. Consider the outrageous, but then offer concrete evidence as to why that wouldn’t work. Evolve the conversation towards a place that is palatable for an era of sports coverage that demands more meticulous points of view.
No, just because of some tweets, guys like Dez Bryant aren’t more likely to sign with your favorite team. Because you specifically thought of this fantasy, doesn’t make it any better of an idea either.
But we can talk about it, and we can shoot it down with reason. That is, until the next “Dez Bryant” is released.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.