Dan Ellis, the erstwhile Nashville netminder now with the Tampa Bay Lightning has managed to rile up the Twitterati with a series of opinionated tweets and responses to comments on those tweets. The brouhaha has brought to light some of the advantages and disadvantages of communication in an era of instantaneous give and take.
The first hornet's nest that was rattled by Ellis was his comparison of an professional athlete to a brain surgeon, specifically that both professions required an immense amount of training and sacrifice to be successful and not everyone could do those jobs.
A person doesn't just walk into the operating room from the street and successfully perform neurosurgery. Neither does one step on the ice and successfully tend the goal for an NHL team.
Danny stretched a bit too far when he compared Paris Hilton to a specialist, which caused the focus to move away from his original point and gave opportunists an opening to assail his original premise.
Danny jumped back in to the fray with a comment about money worries and taking an 18% pay cut (the amount of money that is deducted from a player's salary for escrow payments under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement). The sentiment that Dan expressed was that he was more worried about money now than when he was in college.
Subsequent consecutive tweets from Dan went on to say that he wouldn't expect others to understand his feelings if they were not making a lot of money just like he would not understand the what it was like to risk his life like a policeman or fireman or soldier.
His summation, spread over two consecutive tweets, was, "...U r kidding yourself if u think money makes things easier."
And at that point, the hounds were unleashed.
Some came to the defense of Dan.
One can argue either side of Dan's two controversial positions, and there are valid points to made on either side of the argument. I have some definite thoughts about what Dan has posited in his tweets, but that is not the underlying issue that requires our attention.
The real issue here is not the opinions of Dan Ellis, but instead how our conversations and communication are evolving in the world of social media and instant communication.
Twitter has grown in popularity because, among other aspects, the communication is instantaneous and , as Dan Ellis has shown, is often stream of consciousness thinking for the entire world to see. In both cases, this can be good or bad.
Twitter has become a source of news for many. Witness the popularity of the medium during the trade deadline or free agency period of the NHL. News of player signings and movement were tweeted almost instantly, and I like many hockey fans was getting updates throughout these times from friends on Twitter.
While this quick flow of information is welcome, the downside of this is obvious. None of the information is vetted for accuracy. Twitter has seen rumors of everything from the death of prominent celebrities (Bill Cosby), outbreaks of diseases (Swine flu, April 2009), and the movement of athletes to rivals or other teams in their particular sport (too numerous to mention).
As with the instantaneous flow of information, Dan Ellis has proven that comments can be blasted into bits and bytes and broadcast all throughout cyberspace without proper restraint.
It is not necessarily that Dan- or anyone- can take a controversial position on any subject that is a weakness of the medium. Most sports fans are used to controversy, confrontation, and good natured conflict that is natural in that arena. No, the weakness is that I or most anyone except the highest profile tweeters can respond with bile and malice aforethought and do it virtually anonymously.
Disagreement isn't bad. I have gathered immense knowledge from those that disagree with my positions on any number of subjects. Disagreement turns destructive, however, when it turns opposition to an opinion or a position into personal attacks.
Suppose you are in a face to face conversation with someone with whom you have a legitimate disagreement. The conversation may get heated, but rarely will devolve into a vitriolic confrontation. Read the timeline of Dan Ellis' tweets beginning after his last tweet about money at 10:18 on September 6th. The next tweet from someone going under the Twitter name "ArsonistSavior" calls Ellis "ignorant". Watching the Twitter conversation that night was interesting as some who disagreed with Dan called him worse things.
Dan waded out into the conversation with the stated intent "to stir the pot" (his words). There is not a thing wrong with stirring the pot, just be prepared for the reaction that is coming.
As social media continues to permeate our channels of communication, there will be growing pains. The Ellis flap has brought to light some of them:
We want access to athletes and like the fact that we can can communicate with them through a medium like Twitter. We should realize that as athletes they have not sacrificed their right to their opinions as much as we might disagree with them.
Comments made on Twitter are much like comments made among friends sitting around having a beer- in a different moment you might have said the same thing but differently. Twitter is often a stream of consciousness method of communication, and while interesting and many times insightful, is not always tactful.
Dan has now proven- twice- that 140 characters are great to communicate short thoughts or ideas but woefully inadequate to stake out in-depth positions and defend them. You want to debate economic disparities or the sacrifices necessary to reach the pinnacle of a specialized profession? You might want to chose a different venue than Twitter.
Twitter is a venue that promotes a rough and tumble form of dialogue in that comments can be splashed out for everyone to see. No problems with that, but if I take a position that you disagree with and you are going to call me an a$$hole, then don't do it anonymously. Have the courage of your convictions to own your comments, positive or negative, toward me or anyone else.
Personally, I am glad to see guys like Dan or Paul Bissonnette and others on Twitter. Their brief comments provide humor and insight into the life of a professional athlete. I hope they continue on and others join in the social media trend. I don't expect them to be the most eloquent of tweeters not do I expect to agree with everything they put out for public consumption.
Then again, I am not the most eloquent or agreeable of tweeters either.
I will make you guys a promise, though.
I won't call you an a$$hole- even if I really don't agree with you- if you will not call me an a$$hole either.