Censorship, thy name is Calgary. In the wake of slotback Nik Lewis' O.J. Simpson- referencing tweet, which earned him a fine from the league (but only saw him offer a limited apology), Stampeders' head coach and general manager John Hufnagel has reportedly banned his players from tweeting until the end of the season. It's a move that's happened numerous times in college football and junior hockey, but has been relatively rare in the professional ranks (although there have been isolated incidences of Twitter bans, including Cincinnati Bengals' head coach Marvin Lewis banning players during the team's 2012 training camp and the Florida (now Miami, or perhaps Toronto) Marlins demoting outfielder Logan Morrison over his tweets in 2011). It's also one that, from this corner, is going too far.
There's no question that Lewis' comments were stupid and that his fine is well-deserved. There's also no question that they've caused an unnecessary distraction for his team. However, responding by trying to censor the whole team is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are plenty of Stampeders' players who are great ambassadors for the team on Twitter, including Rob Maver, Randy Chevrier, Johnny Forzani, Keon Raymond and others, and Lewis normally falls into that category as well. Prohibiting all of the other players from talking because of something Lewis did is an overreaction, and one that's concerning from a freedom-of-speech perspective.
Of course, freedom of speech doesn't mean comments are without consequence, and that's why fining Lewis is reasonable; his comments reflected negatively on his team and his league, and he's been punished for it. Banning Lewis from Twitter for a period would have been more questionable, but could still be justified; he messed up, and that carries penalties. Banning the rest of the team from using Twitter is more troubling, though. Certainly, that doesn't completely silence them; they could undoubtedly go post on Facebook or Google+ or whatever other internet forums they favour, and some of their thoughts will definitely be conveyed through the traditional media. It's that last point that's interesting, though; by and large, Twitter has been extremely positive for the CFL, allowing players to express themselves and get their own thoughts out there without relying on the traditional gatekeepers. Perhaps that has something to do with why one of those gatekeepers, George Johnson of The Calgary Herald, lobbied for exactly this sort of ban Tuesday:
The inherent problem with Twitter as a tool, and much of social sports media and current broad-based commentary in general, is that it's become a repository for smart-alek one-liners. Which brings us to the old, wise 'If everyone has an opinion, no one does' philosophy. And we're all guilty, to a degree. Who can be the edgiest, who can be the most provocative, who can incite the most feedback. They're the ones with the most followers. Be they chartered accounts, sous chefs, sportswriting hacks or future Hall of Fame slotbacks.
...Call it anti-democracy if you will, but maybe it's time for teams to cut athletes off from voicing their opinions. At least those who demonstrate they can't be trusted to handle the responsibility —— and yes, it is that — properly.
Maybe the rants should be left for the voice recorders and the TV cameras, in front of the curtain, where they at least understand the consequences.
Funnily enough, that's a pretty provocative, attention-grabbing stance in its own right, and the best part is that the column ends with the usual "Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH" (where you can find such pearls of wisdom as "Channing Tatum (whoever he is ...) the Sexiest Man Alive??!!! Cristiano Ronaldo sad. Demands recount."). Really, "If everyone has an opinion, no one does"? So all the CFL fans on Twitter should give up having opinions on the league, leaving them to experts like Johnson? The teams should stifle their players and prevent them from expressing how they feel and speaking to fans, forcing them to only communicate through traditional media channels? Sorry, but in 2012, that's going backwards, and the Stamps' decision to take Johnson's advice is a retrograde one. On the whole, Twitter has been great for CFL players, teams and fans. Censoring an entire team because of one person's actions is the wrong move, and it's one the Stampeders should rethink.