Robert Griffin III probably thought social media was the key to his connection to his growing fan base when he first came to Washington. He happily shared his thoughts about his opportunity to play for the Redskins, his workouts, his expectations for himself. His Twitter followers gobbled up every tweet and responded with overwhelming positivity, encouragement and support. At the mention of his pending nuptials, fans everywhere flooded his home with gifts from his and his fiancee's bridal registry. The humble and grateful gentleman hand-wrote hundreds of thank you notes to his generous fans.
When the unthinkable happened and Griffin found himself under the knife, fans rallied on social media with words of encouragement. Griffin shared his personal recovery timetable, goals and struggles. I, too, was very interested in his discussion of his mental recovery (RGIII's Mental Game).
Social media, however, can be a double-edged sword. Even as it nurtured and lifted the bonds between favorite athlete and appreciated fans, it soon served as a method of slow, methodical destruction when the going got tough.
As Griffin's return proved more difficult and a second injury and rehabilitation effort hampered his efforts to be the exciting dual threat as per his billing, comments and debates ensued. Negativity grew. Griffin, for all of his humility and affability, could hardly hide the hurt he was beginning to feel with the backlash. He is human, after all. Study after study shows negative comments far outweigh positive when it comes to what our human brains attend and hang on to. It takes at least 10 positive comments to soften the blow of one negative.
For Griffin, the positives fell far short. The change in Griffin's once engaging and humorous larger-than-life personality had become painfully evident. If only we could tell ourselves, "Who cares what people say or think" of us. But sometimes that is a bell which cannot be un-rung.
[Full disclosure is warranted here: I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. And while not wishing to disclose my age, I did cheer for the Fun Bunch, the Hogs, and had a schoolgirl crush on Joe Theismann. I actually got to meet him once at the old Redskins Park after a practice. You could actually get close to the building back then. It was a great day I still talk about. I got an autograph and had a nice little chat which I will always remember--I'm sure he does too. OK maybe he doesn't. Still...I "knew" Joe Theismann just from watching him play. This was long before social media. How would things have been different then? How about a tweet to NY Giants Lawrence Taylor after the game which ended Theismann's career? "Man, LT, we were just wishing u luck when we said break a leg LOL" But I digress...]
Athletes who elect to put themselves out there on social media need to prepare for the inevitable bad that goes with the good. Prepare for how to handle and process what come in. Ideally, refraining from reading comments would keep negativity away, but we all know that is nearly impossible. A bit of perspective is required.
Remember that for the vast majority of "followers," social media affords an anonymous identity through which anything can be said without consequence. But for the celebrity athlete, such anonymity does not exist. Responses and reactions to negative anonymous postings should be kept to a minimum.
Athletes should strive to portray themselves in a positive light. Social media is a great way to do this, if done properly. And while it is great to feel the fans love, it must be taken for what it is--anonymous, conditional, and often, fleeting.
Athletes must decide who in their lives are truly important to them, whose opinions matter, who is really there for them. Anything and anyone else cannot be of great influence. It is the only way to protect oneself from mental anguish in bad times.
RGIII will bounce back. He is a proven warrior, who has beaten the odds with his style, and has impressed and entranced thousands of fans with his humanness. But the only one he really needs to fully support him is himself.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.