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Rashard Mendenhall’s Tweets Stir Controversy

It’s crazy to think that a message containing 160 characters or less can change the world, help you keep in touch with friends and family, and even stir up controversy. That’s the power of Twitter.

I used to think the social media website was really stupid, but now I think it’s amazing. That’s where I get a lot of my news (including word of Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter last night against the Chicago White Sox), hear about amazing videos, and keep in touch with family, friends, and fans.

I started my account only because my television station encouraged me to. I wasn’t excited about the idea back then, but now I use Twitter all the time (I even have multiple accounts now). It doesn’t matter if I’m at work, sitting around my apartment, or even on vacation…I never take a break from social media. It’s not because I feel like I have to be active; it’s because I want to be active.

The other really cool thing about Twitter is that it opens doors to people you never had access to before. I’m talking about actors, athletes, politicians, etc. You name the celebrity (from whatever walk of life)…and they probably have an account. 

That’s not always a good thing though, especially when it comes to the world of sports. Players and coaches have been fined thousands of dollars for tweets they’ve sent, and in one case that I covered around here, former Idaho basketball player Kashif Watson was suspended indefinitely for comments he made over Twitter about head coach Don Verlin.

When news of Osama bin Laden’s death hit the internet, word started to spread like crazy. According to several articles, Twitter experienced traffic spikes of more than 4,000 tweets per second. If you don’t believe in the power of social media, just take a look at this video from the baseball game between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday night (jump to the 4:50 mark to see what I’m talking about). Social media is one of the main ways information is spread these days.

Even after the millions of tweets that were sent about bin Laden over the last few days, four from the account of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (@R_Mendenhall) appear to have caused the most controversy. This is what Mendenhall tweeted…

About the death of bin Laden:

“What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side.”

“For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?”

“There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to #think.”

There was also tweet Mendenhall sent about the events of September 11th, but it appears he deleted that from his account. He reportedly said, “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”

The media jumped all over this. You could see Mendenhall’s tweets plastered all over national television programs, and all over the internet. His comments have caused some to say he should be “condemned”, while others call him “intriguing”. There are even people out there who argue Mendenhall should be released by the Steelers. I think that’s just stupid! What happened to the freedom of speech (or in this case, tweets)?

As a sportscaster, I pray for athletes and coaches to be themselves. I hate the “one game at a time” sports cliches. Whether it’s about Osama bin Laden or playing their next game, I just want real answers. That’s exactly what Mendehall gave over his Twitter account. They might not be your opinions, but they’re his opinions (if you like them or not). Athletes hide in a shell in front of cameras and microphones because people jump all over them the second they say something away from the norm. The media wants something original, and then they attack the statement once it gets out there. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

UPDATE: Mendenhall just posted this blog to clarify his comments.

I want to know what you think of all this (Mendenhall’s opinion, the reaction by the media, or even the power of Twitter). You can leave a comment below, reach me at tim@timlewissports.com, or connect with me on Twitter and Facebook. I would love to hear your take on all of this.

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