- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Curt Schilling is known as much for his verbosity as his split-finger fastball. And his recent use of the World Wide Web has shown that when it comes to getting an athlete’s opinion, the rules have changed.

The Boston Red Sox pitcher is one of a handful of players who use online running diaries — commonly known as blogs — to connect to fans and, at times, sound off on perceived ills.

This week, Schilling used his blog, 38pitches.com, to apologize for remarks he made about San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds and steroid use during a weekly radio appearance. And last month Schilling railed on the media in his blog for writing about comments made by Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne, who suggested that Schilling’s famed “bloody sock” from the 2004 World Series was actually painted red.

“My only real problem is not that Gary Thorne said something stupid and ignorant, which he did, but that without a word being uttered by anyone in our clubhouse this somehow became a major news story,” Schilling wrote in a blog post measuring more than 1,500 words.

Schilling has used his blog as a kind of virtual podium, but for most athletes, personal blogs simply provide a more direct connection to fans and allow them to show glimpses of humanity that might not otherwise be visible.

“I am officially the worst at picking NCAA brackets,” pro tennis player Andy Roddick said in a blog entry on his Web site last month. “At least last year I [stunk] at it but no one knew … this year, we did a big ATP March Madness pool, so now it’s pretty much public knowledge that I’m the worst.”

In that same blog entry, Roddick riffed on a variety of disparate topics including “American Idol,” Elton John, Donald Trump and the marital status of the world’s tallest man.

Like Roddick, Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas originally started blogging simply for fun, but as the season went on, he began using the blog to promote himself and his business ventures.

“At first, he was he was like ‘what’s a blog?’ But he totally stuck to it,” said Paisley Benaza, Arenas’ marketing representative. “It was a good opportunity to see the real Gilbert, since he’s never really out in the media except for sound bites.”

Currently, none of the major professional sports leagues have any set policy regarding a player’s use of personal blogs, though some, including the NBA, actually invite players to do so. Current bloggers on NBA.com now include Arenas, Dallas Mavericks sixth man Jerry Stackhouse, Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman, Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon and Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh.

“I think it’s great,” NBA commissioner David Stern said at a conference in March sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “It’s goofy, it’s great, it’s another kind of access. I don’t have any problem with it.”

But sometimes, a player’s blog entry can create a stir. Arenas in March was scolded by the NBA for discussing $10 bets he made with fans during a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. And Schilling’s most recent comments led Red Sox manager Terry Francona to suggest that the pitcher should blog on more mundane matters.

“I would certainly encourage [blogging], but what I would say is there’s nothing wrong with showing your writing to me or someone you trust prior to posting it, because you might be able to avoid certain things,” said John Maroon, a communications consultant who has worked with the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken.

Schilling is not the only athlete who has blogged partly out of frustration in dealing with traditional sportswriters.

In March, Arenas wrote a 3,700-word entry defending himself against a sportswriter who said he needed to concentrate more on basketball and less on making predictions. And several other athlete bloggers said they often blog to supplement traditional sportswriters, who are limited by time and space.

“One of the great benefits of a player blog is the forum to clear up any misquotes or comments taken out of context,” said C.J. Nitkowski, a former Nationals pitcher now playing in Japan, who has been operating a personal Web site for more than a decade. “You have an opportunity to make sure people understand exactly where you are coming without a media filter.”

But some players have taken that a step further, using their blogs as an exclusive place to break news and avoiding members of the media entirely.

Schilling, for instance, declined to speak to reporters after the Thorne controversy but responded on his blog, and Barry Bonds used his personal Web site to update fans on his recovery from an injury in 2005. Other athletes including Arenas and Tiger Woods have used their Web sites to break news, rather than contact reporters directly.

“That I would strongly discourage,” Maroon said. “I think the gap between players and the media is widening when it should be shrinking.”

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