We are truly living in the digital age. It doesn’t matter who you are, you use social media and you have instant access to it thanks to your computer, your phone, your tablet and even your gaming console. Of course, this has changed celebrity culture and thus has changed sports, as we know it. Athletes and teams now have a way to directly communicate with fans, which has had both positive and negative results. Some athletes have used it to spread awareness for issues dear to their hearts; some have used it to argue with fans for hours on end. Not unlike a certain superstar basketballer.
The Curious case of Kevin Durant
No NBA player has come under more scrutiny over the past year than Kevin Durant. Since he made the switch from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors, he’s been the subject of countless memes, abuse and hate for his decision in free agency. Many saw him leaving for a rival team, that was already historically great and star-studded without him, as a weak move. It was seen as a cheap and easy way out to win a championship and cement his place among the greats. He responded to the hate by having his most efficient season ever, before capping it off with a legendary performance in the NBA Finals, as his Warriors killed LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.
You’d think this would be enough, he did what he had set out to do and wouldn’t feel a need to respond to the hate that came his way. However, over the last week he was caught out on Twitter, seemingly trying to use a fake account to defend himself against a fan. Durant responded to the criticism and completely threw his former team and teammates under the bus, saying how he didn’t like playing for Thunder head coach Billy Donovan and the roster was simply just himself and Russell Westbrook. What caught most people’s attention was that he referred to himself in the third person, leading many to believe that he was attempting use a fake account so he could defend himself and come across as a “fan” rather than simply using his verified account and engage someone in an argument. He has since admitted he regrets the tweets but claims he has no fake accounts, however it is hard to believe that he knew it was on his verified account in the way that he referred to himself as “he” and “Kevin Durant” as opposed to speaking about himself normally.
If this is highlighting anything, it’s that Twitter and social media has allowed the fans to directly talk to their favourite athletes. It just seems that some athletes aren’t suited to the current era of fan communication, and Internet trolling. Since the switch to Oakland, Durant has found a constant need to justify his decision, explain himself and respond to criticism, instead of letting his game speak or keeping quiet altogether. He isn’t the first athlete to receive hate, and he won’t be the last, even in this current era. You only need to go back to the beginning of the decade to see the abuse that LeBron James received for leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat, and you only still need to see the hate he receives in general. Be it comparisons with Michael Jordan, his outspokenness in the media, his demeanour on the court, he always gets criticised. Yet he’s never been caught out on Twitter like Kevin Durant has, and if he has responded to criticism it’s usually been verbally as opposed to his keyboard. It’s also pretty much certain that players like Michael Jordan received a lot of hate, the only difference being that era lacked social media, so it wasn’t broadcasted like it is today. Still, Kevin Durant isn’t going to stop receiving hate, so he has to learn to take it on the chin, especially seeing as it’s so easy for the Twitter trolls to send abuse his way.
Reading into it too much?
Teammates are always seen befriending each other on social media. Whether it’s during the off-season, pre-season or the season itself, modern athletes have not been shy of posting images of them with their teammates, retweeting each other, favouriting or commenting on each other’s social media. It is thanks to this that people can now use social media, as a heads up on what moves players will be making during trade periods.
A simple follow or unfollow can have so many ramifications, and can send the sporting world into a meltdown. Going back to the NBA, the biggest move this off-season has to have Kyrie Irving being traded to the Boston Celtics from Cleveland. He requested a trade a few weeks prior and became the subject of a lot of speculation. One big instance that occurred was that he was spotted unfollowing LeBron James on Instagram, leading to not only confirming the trade request as the story broke out, but leading many to believe that he no longer wanted to play with LeBron, that he was tired of being his sidekick and wanted to lead his own team. There hasn’t been any confirmation as to whether or not this contributed to Irving requesting the trade, but speculation is still in the air and many do legitimately believe that he had no longer wanted to be a part of LeBron.
This problem doesn’t only exist in the NBA, as in the case of football social media activity has been used to speculate transfers. Whenever Cristiano Ronaldo likes anything on Instagram remotely releated to Manchester United, the standard rumours of his sensational return begin. Even recently, Alvaro Morata was linked with a move to the Red Devils and his wife was spotted following the club on Instagram, as though the activity of a footballer’s wife should be used a sign for any potential transfers. It sounds farcical, but this is a by-product of the times that people will use that as an indication of a player’s transfer. Football teams do use social media and are savvy in how they announce transfers, so it seems as though they are seeing how important social media has become.
It is evident that social media has changed sports as we know it. It’s simply up to teams and athletes to acclimatise, and get with the times, as social media is only going to progress. For the sake of sports, it doesn’t want to be playing catch up.