To the list of universal threats to football success — injury and indiscretion, a Tom Brady-led offense marching against your defense — the NFL, has added another: Twitter.
As training camps opened last week, players were told that the same standard — read: paranoia — that applies to the flow of information to reporters also applies to Twitter. In Green Bay, players were told they would be fined if they texted or Twittered from team meetings or coaching sessions.
When coach Tony Sparano met with the Dolphins before Sunday's first practice, he effectively ou?lawed Twitter, nose tackle Jason Ferguson said.
"I don't have an account," Ferguson said. "I was thinking about getting one until I got the information. OK, won't get it now. Can't do it. I don't want to get fined, not yet."
Football coaches are a password-protected lot, preferring to dispense so little information that most days they would struggle to fill 140 characters. They worry that the casual nature of Twitter could inspire the budding bloggers in their locker rooms to inadvertently disclose more than they should about injuries, game plans and what is said behind closed doors.
The NFL does not have a policy about social media, although it warns players about the risks of someone impersonating them on one of the sites. Cell phones, computers and PDA's cannot be used by players, coaches or other club personnel on the sideline, in coaches' booths or locker rooms from pregame warm-ups through the end of the game. But NFL officials are working on a policy that would apply to the use of social media sites on the day of the game.
Sparano told the Dolphins that information on Twitter will be picked up by the news media and provide another dreaded distraction. Coaches did not have to look hard for an example: After Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson sprained a knee ligament in practice Saturday, his teammate Bernard Berrian tweeted that he was out for the season. Berrian later said that he was joking, and Jackson is expected to miss only a few practices. A greater fear for coaches is that a player will mention that he turned his ankle in practice — or worse, that somebody else did — and that the news media and opponents will quickly read it.
Twitter has become a source of fascination for the sports world. NFL executives tweeted from the collegd draft. The cyclist Lance Armstrong tweets continually. So do scores of NBA players. Shaquille O'Neal has more than 1.8 million followers. But no other sport guards information as fiercely as the NFL does, making the collision of tweets and tackles particularly intriguing.
Hence, the only slightly exaggerated advice one team executive gave: Don't Twitter about anything more than what you're eating.
The teams in the nation's biggest media market — the Giants and the Jets — did not issue new Twitter rules. Jets kicker Jay Feely is an avid tweeter, but he often sticks to a safer topic than football: politics.
Football coaches would prefer players pick up their playbooks and not their BlackBerrys.
"I'm naive to the whole thing, I don't really know what this is," Sparano said, after warning his players about Twitter. "I just learned how to text a couple months ago."