Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is a dedicated tweeter. When he's not at the ballpark, he shares photos of his dynamic taste in food and his love for his dog Missy to his more than 133,000 followers on Twitter. He often offers clever short quips after games — he called the Orioles' series in Arizona, in which they lost all three games in walk-off fashion, a root canal without Novocaine.
Jones, whose Twitter handle is @SimplyAJ10, said he aims to give fans a glimpse into the life of a major league baseball player. But over the weekend one of his tweets sparked a media maelstrom when he wrote that a banana was thrown in his direction in center field during the ninth inning of Sunday's game in San Francisco.
Though Jones said he didn't intend it to, his post — which has been retweeted nearly 5,000 times — ignited a national discussion about race. A day later, Jones said his priority in sending the tweet was shedding a light on player safety, not race.
But it was the latest example of the double-edged sword that the Orioles and other professional athletes face when participating in social media. New technology allows players to connect with their fans and to promote themselves and their teams like never before. But anything they write is subject to scrutiny and attention far beyond what they might have anticipated when typing in 140 characters or less.
"I've had both spins on it — being on it, being off it," Jones said. "That's why it's social media. It's why you want to connect with people in the world in terms of entertainers, actors, actresses, directors, artists in terms of music, athletes. But there are some things that it enables. People sometimes just take things way too far because they're able to. That's just the makeup of humanity. We take advantage of everything."
Before today's age of technology, fans' only way of interacting with their favorite players was by hoping to meet them at the ballpark or by writing fan mail.
Piles of letters from fans still wait at players' lockers. But fans can now get more unfiltered access on their cell phones and computers, as those players on Twitter often sit at their lockers and scroll the timelines on their phones.
The communication isn't always constructive, though.
A land of trolls
Some of the responses Jones received to his initial tweet about the banana incident Sunday prompted him to later tweet that he probably wouldn't be on social media much longer. An hour later, he tweeted about just having eaten tamales, and he remains active online.
Jones said he's grown accustomed to the constant "trolling," a term used to describe when users send out negative posts to spark an argument, but he still believes he can show fans more about himself.
"They don't know about taking batting practice or what's going on on the team flights, the thought process," Jones said. "The only thing they get to see is the game and the results and our reaction to those immediate results. They don't get to see what we go through on a daily basis, and honestly I just try to give them a little bit of insight on how that works and how our lives are. For the most part, most of them appreciate it, but it's also something that anybody can take advantage of. ... I guess you have to take the good with the bad."
Last month, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis deleted his Twitter account around the All-Star Game, shortly after he responded to a young fan who asked him whether he was using performance-enhancing drugs. Davis replied by simply saying no, but the fact that he didn't end the reponse with a period prompted many to decipher the answer deeper and say Davis' response was open-ended. Davis has since repeated that he's never used PEDs.
When Davis quit Twitter, he said it had nothing to do with the PED accusations he was receiving; he tried it out and it just wasn't something he enjoyed.
"Some fans are going to be idiots regardless of what I do," Davis said Wednesday. "That wasn't really the reason. When I got on it, it was something that was new and fun and you could interact with people. The more I had it, the more I realized I really didn't need it. I'm just not a guy who is going to go out there and say, 'Hey, I'm going to go eat lunch at so-and-so, come hang out.' If I'm going to thank the fans, I'm going to do it vocally or face to face. I'm just not that kind of guy. When I go home, I like to be private, I like to be left alone. It's just kind of how I am.
"I think as baseball players, when we leave the field we're regular people," Davis added. "I didn't feel that way when I was on Twitter, not to say anybody made me feel uncomfortable, but I just felt there was no separation between the baseball player and the average Joe."
Davis said he had told Monica Barlow, the Orioles' public relations director, that he would try Twitter for a year before he decided it wasn't for him. Barlow said the Orioles "do support players who are interested in using Twitter as a way to connect with our fans."
Players need education
Bethesda-based attorney Bradley Shear, who advises professional and college sports teams — as well as Fortune 500 companies — on how to utilize social media platforms, said most athletes don't receive the education they need about how Twitter can be damaging.
"What a lot of players have to understand is that whatever they say or do online, basically once you put it out there, you can never take it back," Shear said. "You're going out there and instead of it being the town square, it's essentially the world square. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't get this eduation growing up. What I usually tell most of the people I advise is, 'Look, ignore a lot of the stuff when people tweet towards you.' Basically when there's a bully on the block, if you ignore the bully, the bully will probably go away. It's the same thing online."