Footballers around the country cleverly took to social media outlets on Tuesday to gain support against their owners. With so many of its members connected to fans around the world, the NFL Players Association planned a concerted effort to inundate Twitter with messages and trending topics. Still, this forward-thinking and focused effort to raise support will ultimately do nothing to help their cause.
For over a year now, fans have been aware that the NFL owners could lock out the players from the 2011 season, as both sides disagree on several issues and a compromise has yet to be reached. Both sides have campaigned for support and pleaded their case every step of the way.
With social media, the players have a huge advantage over the owners when it comes to reaching an audience. While there is only one owner per team, 32, there are scores of players, all of whom are far more visible and connected. Much of the NFLPA are on Twitter and are already followed by fans. Meanwhile few owners are public and visible, the most notable being the Indianapolis Colts’ Jim Irsay, who often takes to Twitter in jest.
Dubbed ‘Let Us Play Day,’ players and fans tweeted and retweeted the following message: “Today is #LETUSPLAY Day. Help #NFL Players & Fans #BlocktheLockout. Visit NFLLockout.com and sign the Petition.” Beanie Wells, Nick Mangold, Matt Hasselbeck, and Patrick Willis were among the many players that forwarded the simple message.
The plan has been in the works for a while, and it was back in October, 2010, that the NFLPA took over the Twitter handle @NFLLockOut. The players union had Twitter take the name away from the three fans that had it registered, claiming they were the rightful owners having registered a similar domain on the web and a page on Facebook.
Still, however popular the problems of the NFLPA become this week and beyond, there are two prevailing themes that are likely to limit their progress. The first is that most fans simply want football, and they don’t care which side has to cave. For fans to retweet their support of a quick resolution in football negotiation is no different than Facebook users clicking their support of curing a disease. Were the owners to trend #letsjustplayfootball, fans would favor that just as much.
Secondly, it is hard to imagine many fans that aren’t aware of the potential impending lockout, and promoting it on Twitter will not lead to any real action; it is not a sudden injustice imposed on a group of people. This is yet another example that lends itself to journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s discourse on ‘weak-tie activism.’ The writer for The New Yorker penned years ago that, “social networks are effective at increasing participation – by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.”
The act of retweeting clearly requires little to no effort, any players and fans alike may feel a false sense of accomplishment. Moreover, there is yet no way to qualify the quantity of supporters. That is, while the NFLPA will surely cite support from fans in their argument against the owners, Twitter itself is an ambiguous entity; words to do not equate to or indicate future action. It is absolutely worth the effort since the effort is minimal, but there will be no serious protests for or against the players. All fans want is for the show to go on.