Over the past few decades, social media has progressively become more and more a part of our daily lives. What started with sites like MySpace, in which you could connect and stay in touch with friends around the world while customizing your profile, has molded into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and so on.
Now, not only are you able to keep up with your friends no matter where they are, but with any of your favorite celebrities as well. Social media has become a platform for well-known individuals to connect with those who follow them. From any B-List actress, to President Donald Trump, everyone is follow-able through the magic of social media.
Athletes are no different. Ever wonder what LeBron James is up to on his off day? Are you interested in how Serena Williams is preparing for her next Grand Slam? Look no further than their social media handles to find out. These programs reveal a lot of what happens behind the scenes in their daily lives, when they are not dominating in their respective sports. This greatly interests people, for this level of transparency makes them seem more human and less like an immortal amongst mere simpletons.
Social media platforms and sports have become a match made in 21st century Heaven. Here are some of the many ways that social media is bridging the gap between the fan and the athlete.
There are many ways in which the ever-shortening gap between fans and sporting heroes can be a positive thing for everyone involved. One of the most important ones is that it makes it easier for the stars to positively promote change in their communities, and in the world as a whole.
It is no secret that some of the top athletes have a commanding presence on social media. Star Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has nearly 3 million followers on Instagram, and nearly 4.5 million followers on Twitter. You could populate several states in this country with only those who follow Watt on social media.
As a result of this, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has an incredible amount of influence upon his fans. He is one of the most beloved players in all of professional football, which grants a lot of clout to his words and actions. Fortunately, Watt uses this platform for good, specifically in the Houston area.
After suffering through the devastating path of Hurricane Harvey, J.J. took action in order to help with the recovery efforts in his community. Not only did he go out and get his own hands dirty during the process, but he helped promote the cause through social media. This caused donations to start pouring in, as his loyal fans were spurred into action through the defensive end’s message. Since his efforts began, Watt has raised an astounding 37 million dollars towards Harvey relief, which is helping Houston to get to its feet again. Without raising awareness of the cause on social media, there is no telling how dwarfed that number would have been, and how worse off Houston would be right now.
Similarly, athletes can also take to social media to promote ideas or organizations they are proponents of. Those who support our servicemen and women often use their influence to promote that organization. Harrison Barnes, a supporter of the military, has shown his 1.2 million followers on Instagram that he is behind our nations’ finest men and women. The star forward for the Dallas Mavericks has become known throughout his career for his work in the community and his promotion of good causes, making social media a perfect avenue for him to make his actions even more impactful.
Self-promotion and the promotion of other brands is one of the more prominent ways social media bridges the gap between fans and players. Before, athletes who were sponsored by specific clothing lines, athletic gear companies, or any other product would be seen on a commercial, billboard, newspaper ad, etc. Though these forms of marketing still exist, social media has become one of the more impactful ways that brands can be developed.
People all around the world want to be LeBron James. His reign as the greatest basketball player on the planet has gone unquestioned for almost his entire career. He has also kept a clean public image, staying out of the headlines as a result of any off-court issue. Though we cannot actually become the King, we can emulate some of the ways he lives his life.
Athletes use the popularity and idolization they draw in order to enhance their own brand and the brands they use, wear, etc. One of LeBron James’s sponsors is Nike. Therefore, a picture of LeBron wearing his new model of Nike shoes does tremendous good for both James and for the company making his latest and greatest kicks. Social media enhances the connection between fan and player by entrenching us into what exactly the stars are wearing and using.
As stated previously, social media can also enhance the personal brand of the athlete that commands the attention of millions of followers. Aside from the brands he or she is using, these platforms help the athlete to create a specific image that supporters can get behind. Nowadays, the athletes who use social media in a positive way use it to show bits of their personal life. This makes them seem more human, as we all strive to be good family members to the ones that helped raise us.
Recently, Denver Broncos running back Jamaal Charles had his entire family come to a Broncos home game. Before social media, you likely would not have known about the actions of the star running back and family man. However, through the power of this platform, Charles was able to document the event, showing his fans that he is much more than simply a football player, but a man who remembers who helped get him to where he is today. This humanization is something that fans love, and is great for any star athlete’s personal brand.
It turns out, you do not have to be a professional athlete making millions of dollars in order to be a strong presence on social media. These programs have become a way for not only star players to enhance their brand, but for up-and-coming studs to promote themselves on their way to the top.
One of the beautiful things about social media is that it is the same for everyone – no matter what your paycheck looks like. Everyone abides by the same rules, and posts things in the exact same way. For this reason, it is very possible for a young person with phenomenal skills at the amateur level to have just as many followers, if not more, than an athlete who excels in the pro ranks.
8-year-old Jaliyah Manuel has become famous on social media for her incredible athletic abilities at such a young age. In a very short amount of time, she has accrued over 100,000 followers on her Instagram account. Her skill with a basketball is well-documented on her page, which helped to make her an overnight sensation that shows no signs of slowing down. Social media allows for anyone to get a piece of the pie if they are talented enough. In the case of Jaliyah, she is both an athlete and a fan. She has managed to become a social media dynamo who is also someone like the rest of us, following the LeBrons of the sports world. In this way, programs like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook do not simply bridge the gap between fan and athlete, but erase it altogether.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the social media revolution. Star athletes do not always use their platforms appropriately, which can get them into trouble sometimes.
Because social media has made the lives of sports figures so public, they must always be on their p’s and q’s when they are out and about. Sometimes, so much transparency can result in some unwanted attention given to a person.
It used to be incredibly difficult for fans to reach star athletes. Through social media, though, anyone can take it upon themselves to contact a player directly on his or her Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms. The majority of the time, these interactions are positive interactions in which fans are showing support for their favorite athletes. A select few times however, it gives people the opportunity to go too far, usually in terms of critiquing a player’s performance.
In social media, everyone is on a level playing field. For this reason, there is less privacy for star athletes when they are out in public. Players must mind their behavior at all times. Normally, this actually has a positive effect on their character, as it forces them to compose themselves properly. However, it does leave open a chance for some vitriol if an athlete acts inappropriately and it is documented on social media. If they do anything that a person does not agree with in a public space, odds are there will be a post about the incident on some sort of platform. Is this entirely negative? No, as it causes players to work on their always-scrutinized public image. In a select few cases though, perhaps the punishment does not fit the crime. After all, we have all had a bad day where we may have been discourteous to someone.
Bridging the Gap
Though there are some small negatives related the rise of social media, the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot. We as fans must come to grips with the fact that athletes err as we all do. What we must focus on is the tremendous potential for good that programs like Instagram and Twitter can cause. J.J. Watt, Harrison Barnes, LeBron James, Jamaal Charles, and Jaliyah Manuel are just a few of the many examples of positive social media presences. Whether you are a 3-time champion and MVP or an 8-year, basketball-playing wunderkind, social media can have a positive effect on many people’s lives. Through bridging the gap between fans and athletes, we can become more engaged in philanthropy, branding, and the positive role models that are a dime a dozen in the sports world.