With American politics more and more explosive by the day, sports media outlets are constantly forced to decide whether they want their staffers commenting publicly on political issues. Some tell their employees to stick to sports on social media, others allow free rein, and others seem to regulate political opinions differently depending who’s opining.
According to Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand, NFL Network is firmly in the “football only” camp. Ourand spoke to two NFL Network executives, who shared tidbits from the outlet’s social-media policy for on-air personalities, including a note on politics. Via SBD:
Politics is so divisive, there’s little upside for NFL reporters and analysts to wade into those battles on social media. Muriano called it a “no-win scenario.”
“Those debates are healthy in the middle of newsrooms and discussions face-to-face,” he said. “But playfully or not, what happens in face-to-face conversations can be construed in ways that you don’t want on a public forum like Twitter — especially when it comes to politics.”
It’s not hard to see why NFL Network wouldn’t want its reporters and analysts commenting on politics. Any opinion on divisive issues risks alienating a huge chunk of viewers, who might attribute the individual’s stance to his/her employer. And in the worst case scenario, someone could overstep, anger thousands of people and wind up causing a massive headache for the people in charge. In recent months, Terry Frei of the Denver Post and Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post have been fired after backlash to controversial tweets.
On the other hand, telling grown men and women what they can’t talk about on a third-party platform seems a touch paternalistic.
The rest of NFL Network’s social media policy, as reported by SBD, is interesting as well. Basically, the network wants its reporters and analysts to engage with fans on a variety of platforms and establish their personalities… but also “stick to football.”
One message the NFL gave its talent was to be cognizant that people follow them for their football knowledge. “When in doubt, keep it to the game,” Brady said. “There’s always a time to showcase your personality and be able to engage with fans and go outside of your core. But at the end of the day, as a member of the NFL Media Group, try to stick to football because that’s what people want to hear from you about.”
The common theme in quotes from the NFL Network executives seems to be they’d prefer their high-profile employees to err toward caution.
“Talent needs to be careful with that level of engagement,” Muriano said. “Be smart and sensitive to if you’re getting trolled or not. Then just stop. Our talent, as the known quantity in this exchange, does not benefit by dressing down a fan — even if that fan is way off base. At some point, they have to know when to say that this has taken a turn and I’m not taking part anymore.”
It’s hard to blame NFL Network execs for asking its reporters and analysts to tread carefully on social media, where a single post or tweet can ruin a career. But it’d also be hard to blame NFL Network staffers for feeling they were, just a bit, being babied.