The reason? Gridiron Twitter!
We've seen, via the likes of Shawne Merriman, Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens, exactly how much trash-talking can be accomplished in 140 characters or less. And that's long before the first snap of the 2009 season. The athlete Twitter feud was non-existent a year ago, but now we're finding these types of headlines on a weekly basis.
And it's only going to get worse/better.
This is simultaneously the greatest and worst thing to happen to the sport of football in recent years. Baseball had the Steroid Era. Now, welcome to football's Twitter Era. While steroids besmirched the baseball's good name and bought about sprawling mistrust among its fan base, the added revenue and popularity boost spurred by the Andro-fueled 1998 home run debacle cannot be denied. Baseball is as popular as it is today because of the sins of it's past.
The NFL of the future will be what it is because of its present sins.
Can Twitter hurt the NFL in unforeseen ways? Absolutely. Will the added PR benefits in the end outweigh the precarious Wild West means? I think so.
Growing up, one of the most frustrating things about being a fan was the deep and mysterious chasm between me and my favorite athletes. The 1985 Bears might as well have lived on Neptune, even though they played their home games about an hour away. The level of fan access to athletes today is entirely unprecedented -- and we're starting to see why it's not always a good thing. Now, all I have to do is click "Follow" and I know when the Bears tight end is grabbing a beer at the bar at the end of my block. I'm not going to pretend that I'd be welcome to belly up with Greg Olsen at Rockit, but if I were a Bears Superfan, I'd find it mildly interesting. If I were five-year-old Kevin Allen, I'd find the fact downright fascinating. It would have done me a ton of good back then to realize that these guys were real people and not the infallable dieties my father and I stared at on Sundays.
Of course, this scares many NFL franchises who live in fear of the types of PR nightmares that accompany some of the heinous crimes perpetrated by high-profile athletes in recent months and years. Lest their players use it for evil, some teams are cracking down on Twitter or have banned it altogether from team functions.
Any Green Bay Packer who Twitters on the job will be fined the maximum amount of $1,701.
Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie was fined $2,500 for using Twitter to opine about the team's training-camp food.
I posit the money he makes from increased sales in Cromartie jerseys, a direct result of a Twitter-fueled bump in popularity, will more than make up for the $2,500 fine. The fallout from the Cromartie Twitter flap is simply an increase in followers.
I'm one of those new followers. And yet, I couldn't tell you the first thing off the top of my head about the on-field expectations Chargers fans should have for Cromartie this season. He'll probably have another quality year, but I'll be much more interested in how -- not whether -- he'll screw up again via Twitter.
OchoCinco is still planning to tweet during games. He said his Twittering is "going to get even worse" during the season.
This is good. Because without OchoCinco tweeting during games, there's no reason to pay attention to the Cincinnati Bengals.
But it's also bad. Because without OchoCinco tweeting during games, there's no reason to pay attention to the Cincinnati Bengals.