- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You remember Brandon Jacobs. He was that big, bulky fullback for the New York Giants, the one the Washington Redskins loved to arm tackle. Well, he’s gotten himself in some extra-large trouble with his new team, the San Francisco 49ers, for a Series of Unfortunate Instagram Posts. Or is it Illegal Use of Twitter? Let’s send it up to the replay booth and get a ruling. 

Whichever it is, Jacobs violated the cardinal rule: Thou shalt not use social media when thou art angry. In his case, he was upset about carrying only five times this year — so upset that he posted a picture of his two Giants Super Bowl rings and groused that he was “rotting away” in Frisco. The Niners, who have Super Bowl aspirations of their own, were not amused. They suspended him for the final three regular-season games, which could cost the Mad Tweeter around $200,000 (depending on how his appeal turns out).

It used to be wide receivers — Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson et al. — who were the NFL’s wildest and craziest guys, but running backs might soon overtake them. A year ago, you may recall, Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers caused a stir by tweeting some interesting observations about the killing of Osama bin Laden (and America’s subsequent rejoicing). Such as: “What kind of person celebrates death?” And: “We’ve only heard one side. We’ll never know what really happened [on 9/11].” (Some free advice: Whatever you do, folks, don’t try to tell Rashard that Oswald acted alone.)

His insights cost him his endorsement deal with Champion. Late in the season, he tore his ACL, an injury from which he’s still recovering. And now he’s been suspended for failing to show up for a Steelers game after being deactivated. All kinds of bad stuff seems to happen to sports figures when they’re stricken with social media-itis.

Larry Johnson is another back who could have used a Twitter baby sitter. Unhappy playing for a last-place Kansas City club in 2009 — and even more unhappy, no doubt, to be averaging 2.9 yards a rush — Johnson lashed out at coach Todd Haley, tweeting: “My father played for the coach from ‘remember the titans.’ Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefley [sic]. Our coach. Nothn.”

After serving a suspension, Johnson was traded to Cincinnati, where he finished the season. It was a steep descent from there. A brief (two games) stint with the Redskins the next year — he was thrown for a 10-yard loss on his last carry — was followed by an even briefer stint (one game, one attempt, 2 yards) with Miami in 2011. And that was it. At 31, his career was over. On the plus side, it left him a lot of time to work on his golf swing and perhaps challenge Haley to a $2 Nassau.

Not that Washington has been immune to these bouts of temporary insanity. Why, in April, Jabar Gaffney, the Redskins‘ leading receiver last season, vented on Twitter about former Philadelphia Eagles teammate Lito Sheppard — and about his soon-to-be-former-wife — and quickly found himself a former Redskin. Gaffney claimed his account was hacked (or as Rex Grossman might put it, “intercepted”), but the hacker has yet to be apprehended, probably because Jabar didn’t offer a reward for his or her capture.

At any rate, since this regrettable episode, Gaffney has been cut by the Redskins, cut by the New England Patriots (in training camp), cut by the Miami Dolphins (after three games and four catches) and may never be seen in the NFL again. Something else that may never be seen again: his Twitter page. Go to @JabarGaffney now and you’re told “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!”

Other athletes, of course, in other sports have fallen victim to the Tweet Smell of Excess. A couple of years back, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dan Ellis, who at the time had more than 11,000 Twitter followers, made the mistake of complaining about having to take an “18 percent” pay cut, a reversal that had left him “more stressed about money now than I was in college.” Naturally, this didn’t go over well with the fans. For one thing, Ellis still was pulling down $1.5 million a year. For another, we’re talking about Florida here, one of the states that was hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. Before the season was over, Ellis was traded to Anaheim, where, mercifully, his tweets could be drowned out by quacks.

Even owners have been burned by social media. The Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 in 2009 for tweeting the officials a new one after a close loss to Denver. For the love of Mendy Rudolph, the loquacious billionaire asked, “how do they not call a tech on JR Smith for coming off the bench to taunt our player on the ground?” Then again, given Cuban’s ongoing jihad against zebras — and the hefty penalties he’s paid for his outspokenness ($1.6 million and counting) — he probably thinks of Twitter as the economy lane.

Maybe there should be a closed-circuit version of Twitter, where sports figures can just tweet at one another. It wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining for you and me, but it would eliminate these all-too-frequent and oh-so-damaging Social Media Scandals.

Which brings us back to Brandon Jacobs. He was a bit surprised, it seems, by the reaction to his posts, going as far as to tweet: “I am so glad twitter allows you to block people.”

To which I reply: Football also allows you to block people, Brandon — and to score touchdowns.

You might want to keep that in mind the next time the 49ers let you play. If there is a next time, that is.