Technology is an attractive nuisance. On one hand, who isn't glad for the convenience of cell phones and the Internet? But it's a short step to obsession and abuse.
Professional and college football teams are grappling with a wave of technical advancement as the season approaches. On one hand, instant messaging is a quick way to get the word out. When you're trying to draw fans, you can never get too much attention.
Or maybe you can.
BYU drew up a list of nine commandments to the media last week. Among its demands: "Do not issue any reports through instantaneous means while practice is in session."
The memo continued, "In an effort to avoid speculation and incorrect information, do not report on injuries or players absent from practice, including via text messaging or other instantaneous means, until Coach Mendenhall or the Athletic Communications office provides the information."
All under the implied threat of denying a reporter's media credential.
Meanwhile, the University of Utah took an equally dim view of instantaneous reporting. This week its sports information office issued this terse statement: "Effective immediately, instantaneous reports of ANY kind will not be permitted from Utah's football practices."
It went on to ban recording devices, including cell phones.
So here they sit, torn between the desire for publicity, yet wary of certain methods and means. They want the word out, but on their own schedule and in their own words.
In fact, they probably want what they can't have — an orderly flow of information.
That's not to say the teams don't have a point. Text messages, cell videos, tweets, etc. from practice aren't always fair or accurate. Sometimes it's just unverified gossip.
Remember in high school when (Ohmygoshcanyoubelieveit?) Megan and Eric broke up? The news spread like wildfire. That was nothing compared to this.
Nowadays, thanks largely to Twitter — a social networking service that allows you to update important news like the what shoes you just bought — the problem is worsening. A team might rein in the media, but are pro athletes really going to keep their mouths shut when a teammate is traded? Or when someone's really ticked at the coach?
John Amaechi wrote in his book that he virtually dared reporters to "out" him when he was playing for the Jazz. These days, he could do it himself.
Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has outlawed tweeting by players. When Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson sprained his knee in practice, teammate Bernard Berrian announced on Twitter that he was out for the season. Turned out Jackson was only out for a few practices.
You can see why athletes embrace services like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. It's fun, fast and a way to announce what they want, when they want, with their own spin. Many have their own Web sites, too.
"If something is going to be said, hey, it's coming from me, it's coming from my phone," Shaquille O'Neal has said.
At the same time, athletes aren't always better-informed on injuries or trades than the media. At least the mainstream media is trained to tell the truth and tell it objectively. There's nothing objective — or necessarily truthful — about an athlete talking about himself or herself.
If news gathering is left to athletes, there's little likelihood of any real news. It's doubtful Louisville coach Rick Pitino would announce his sex scandal on Facebook or Twitter. Would Terrell Owens admit that his new reality show bombed in the early ratings? Would Carlos Boozer admit he didn't want to play in Utah?
Those stories will likely remain the domain of professional reporters.
If you've read athletes' blogs or tweets, most are boring and self-serving. Celebrity dispatches are usually along the lines of "Girl and me just got back from Grand Cayman today, such an amazing place had grrrt time. u should see it."
Beyond that, they're just a keystroke away from saying something they regret — but can't claim they were misquoted.
So the beast has been unleashed. Teams may yank the credentials of a journalist, but what if a player spills the news? Or his girlfriend or brother?
There's a 1960s song that says the night has a thousand eyes; now it has millions. Similarly, in a song called "Her Town, Too," James Taylor croons:
She's got her name on the grapevine
Running up and down
The telephone line.
Someone said, someone said,
Something 'bout, something else,
Someone might have said about her.
J.T. didn't know the half of it.