Though it has been around for years and now has lengthy catalogs of precedents and procedures, Twitter continues to flummox professional athletes. There is no shortage of examples of what not to do and say on the social network, from attacking fans to cursing out teammates to expressing a minority political or cultural opinion, and yet many players still get bogged down in the mire of Twitter. Whether or not such criticisms are justified is irrelevant; at the heart of the matter is that some athletes falter heavily when trying to use Twitter, while only a few thrive.
Brandon Philips, second baseman of the Cincinnati Reds, oft criticized athlete, and Tweeter by the moniker DatDudeBP, appears to be in control on Twitter, using it for whimsy and delight.
He tweets early and often, regaling his 66,000-plus followers with such digressions as, “Good Afternoon, I love when it thunderstorms outside! I always get the best sleep ever! Plus, it’s a great time to cuddle up! LOL #ALLREADY”
Now there is certainly nothing aesthetically pleasing about Phillip’s twitter. His short hand, excessive capitalization and exclamations, litany of hashtags, mentions, and links, all together serve to create a jumbled, thought thoroughly earnest Twitter account. What is noteworthy is the lack of seriousness employed by Phillips on the one hand, but he genuine desire to connect with fans on the other.
Like successful tweeters such as Shaquille O’Neal and Chad Ochocinco, Phillips has used Twitter to meet fans directly. The All-star posted a contest online, and a couple from Kentucky won the prize, which was a flight across the country to Arizona to meet Phillips during spring training. With all his charm, the question wasn’t something deep or rooted in the esoteric baseball archives; it was simple and personal. “What is my favorite drink?” tweeted Phillips. Rachel Zahniser responded correctly: milk.
Few have used Twitter for such enjoyment and fan engagement as Phillips, and certainly none in major league baseball, a sport with a huge financial gap between players and fans. He writes he owns tweets and does not entail the services of any social media group or PR firm. While some athletes in various sports have had trouble on Twitter with fan criticism, Phillips doesn’t seem to have that problem, which is not to say that he is a saint or regarded as ones. In the past his dedication has been questioned, and he has a reputation of being disregarded and chided. Phillips has profanely described opposing teams and has no problem getting into verbal scrums off the field and physical ones on it.
There is speculation that Phillips increased maturity and more positive outlook is related to his Twitter engagement. In his seventh season he has having a great year, and has avoided pitfalls of the past. ESPN reports that teammates think he is refocused, and they acknowledge his social media presence as a positive influence.
Perhaps the most notable twitter achievement involves responding positively to a 14-year-old fan’s request for Phillips to attend him baseball game. Phillips was free, he drove to the little game, sat and watched from the stands, and later posed for pictures and signed autographs.
Sincerity in athletes is often questioned by those who are pessimistic the pros, who too often act solely for money, but that one instance Phillips demonstrated the greatness of his profession.
“I’m glad I went to the game because it showed me why I play this game and why I love this game, why I support this game,” Phillips told ESPN following the excursion. “I think a lot of ballplayers in the big leagues should go to a little kids’ game, and they can find out why they’re playing. It brings back the memories … it’s the most beautiful thing ever. I had so much fun.”
In both a physical and virtual world where athletes are self serving and make news for missteps and gaffes rather than positive acts, Phillips is growing into the rare breed of athlete who knows how to engage fans without getting caught up in a vain and frenzied media environment.