NFL takes aim at Twitter

Celebrities, and professional athletes in particular, have emerged as among the most enthusiastic users of Twitter, the communications tool that has proved so useful for self-promotion.

Basketball big man Shaquille O’Neal broadcasts pithy tweets to his nearly 2m followers. Champion cyclist Lance Armstrong shares pictures from the Tour with an audience of more than 1.5m.

So to players from the National Football League, news that some teams are essentially banning Twitter from the locker room must come as an indignity.

The New York Times reports that as training camps opened last week, players from Green Bay to Miami were being instructed to refrain from using Twitter during team meetings or coaching sessions, or face fines.

Though the NFL does not currently have a social media policy, the Times reports that the league is working on one that would ban the use of social media sites on game days.

The upcoming NFL season, which kicks off on September 10, will be the first since Twitter became massively popular. But already, players are learning how hastily-penned messages can be taken out of context and spun into major stories.

Minnesota Vikings wide reciever Bernard Berrian recently tweeted that his quarterback, Tavaris Jackson, was out for the season after spraining his knee during practice. He later said he was joking, and that Jackson would only miss a few practices.

Coaches are also concerned that any information about the inner workings of their team — from injury reports to strategic plans — could be used against them by their opponents.

The problem of Twitter distracting athletes is not confined to the NFL. In March in the National Basketball Association, Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva got in trouble with his coach after it was revealed he was tweeting during halftime.

He had tweeted: “In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We’re playing the Boston Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.”

And Villanueva did just that, leading the Bucks to a 86 – 77 victory against the defending champion Celtics.