The conflicting reports came from all media, often from Kobe Bryant himself. Was the Lakers star demanding a trade or wasn’t he?
In order to set the record straight -- or perhaps to spin it in the most favorable light -- Bryant turned to using the “Truth” blog on his kb24.com personal website.
“I’m sure you guys have been hearing all this and that and are not sure what to think or believe,” wrote Bryant, who updated the site frequently to discuss his mixed feelings about the Lakers during the fracas. “The Truth section was created for times such as these.”
As the MySpace generation reaches professional sports, many athletes are maintaining website profiles and blogs. Along with providing a direct link to fans, these personalized Internet entries serve as an excuse to limit interviews with mainstream media while also offering the ability to deliver unfiltered messages.
Bryant used his site to acknowledge it would be tough to leave the Lakers -- but he would if it meant playing on a winning team. Other reports are purely personal. Tiger Woods announced the birth of his daughter. And Greg Oden discussed the pain of having his tonsils taken out.
“They come off good if the athletes know what they are doing,” said Will Leitch, editor of deadspin.com, a website that often links to players’ websites. “The mistake is when you see people that still have their college MySpace profile up and all of a sudden they are in the NFL or MLB.”
Indeed, while posting messages is often intended to clear controversy, it occasionally causes it.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.D. Durbin apologized for crudely announcing his fondness for female body parts on his MySpace page. Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson did the same after posting a racially offensive photo on teammate Brandon McCarthy’s page. And Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas drew the ire of NBA officials after blogging about $10 bets he made with fans during a game.
NBA officials fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for criticizing referees on his blog. And NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb was left defending his mother, Wilma, after she wrote that it was “bittersweet” to watch backup Jeff Garcia succeed in leading the Philadelphia Eagles while her son recuperated from an injury.
“There’s a fine line between being candid and getting yourself in trouble, and it depends a lot on what your image is,” said Nancy Baym, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. “There is a reason professionals usually handle that stuff.”
C.J. Nitkowski, a former big league baseball player who now pitches professionally in Japan, was a pioneer among athlete bloggers. He started his website, Cjbaseball.com, a decade ago.
“The advantages are clearing up misquotes, controlling a story that may be important, and the chance to interact with fans directly,” he said. "[But] also having complete unedited access to the world needs to be treated carefully. Speaking your mind is a nice freedom, but sometimes it’s not always a good thing.”
Arenas’ marketing representative, Paisley Benaza, admits “concern” about her basketball-playing client -- who she says only recently learned what a blog was -- so eagerly awaiting each opportunity he has to post on his increasingly popular NBA.com blog.
The flip side: “I know he always wants to speak for himself and that’s how it is,” Benaza said. “We try not to filter it because that is what makes him Gilbert Arenas. He’s an honest, genuine person that loves his fans.”
Arenas, charismatic and engaging, draws readers across the world with his candid approach. He has written about dropping his baby girl -- “it was either both of us stumble down the stairs, or drop her. So I had to drop her. She’s OK. She dropped on her butt first” -- and a no-holds-barred rant blasting Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski for dropping him from the U.S. national team.
“If I have the chance to go back to college, I’ll give up one NBA season to play against Duke,” Arenas wrote. “One college game, that’s five fouls, right? 40-minute game at Duke[,] they got soft rims[,] I’d probably score 84 or 85.
“I wouldn’t pass the ball. I wouldn’t even think about passing it. It would be like a NBA Live or an NBA 2K7 game, you just shoot with one person.”
Pat Neshek, a relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, used his blog to try to rally support that he hoped would land him in this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star game.
An avid autograph collector, Neshek started his blog in 2004 to converse with other signature hounds, but there he was a few weeks ago, using the blog to plead his case to be the final American League player on the roster -- a choice made by fans in online voting. (He lost out to Boston’s Hideki Okajima.)
“If you talk about on-field performance, fans don’t tend to like that stuff and you sound self-absorbent,” Neshek later said. “The better blogs are ones that are off topic, never-knowing-what-you-will-get-type write-ups. And the media will eat you up if you talk about other players or on-field things.”
Sometimes, athletes choose to speak exclusively through their website.
That’s what happened two years ago when San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds stopped granting interviews while he was recovering from a knee injury.
These days, Bonds still has a strained relationship with reporters but writes an occasional diary and answers selected questions from fans on his website. But you won’t find any insight about controversial topics.
“I got a kick out of pitching to the kids and seeing how much fun they had running the bases,” Bonds wrote in a recent posting about a recent Giants family photo day and softball game. In another section, he lists Allen Iverson as his favorite athlete to watch, his favorite food as Chinese and favorite dessert as homemade peach cobbler.
The Bonds site has this in common with those of other mega-athletes: a sales tie-in.
Anyone looking for an authenticated Bonds signed photograph, or a basketball signed by Bryant can do so directly from their websites -- for a steep price.
Instead of promoting, David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, said blogs should prominently show off the athlete’s personality.
“It’s a chance to see a complete package, not just the athlete,” he said. “In doing so, it has to be done very authentically. We all learned the lesson of saying something we shouldn’t have said in a blog format that can come off more unpolished.”
Leitch offers simpler advice.
“We are going further and further away from the idea that your e-mail life is different from your real life,” he said. “It isn’t.”
“If you are really concerned about it, then don’t have a website.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
More and more athletes are using their personal online journals to send messages.
David Beckha davidbeckham.com
Barry Bond barrybonds.mlb.com
Kobe Bryan kb24.com
Michael Vic MikeVick.com
Tiger Wood tigerwoods.com
Blogging by the pros
What’s on the minds of some of the world’s most popular athletes? A hint might be found on their personal websites:
* Kobe Bryant (kb24.com): “When you love something as much as I love the Lakers its hard to even imagine thinking about being elsewhere. But, the ONE THING I will never sacrifice when it comes to basketball is WINNING. That is plain and simply what it’s all about. It’s in my DNA. It’s what pushes me to work as hard as I do. It’s my daily passion and pursuit.” -- May 29, 2007.
* David Beckham (davidbeckham.com): “Well, it’s been a very busy ten days since we arrived in L.A., but we’re settling in nicely, and you’ll be glad to know that my first few training sessions went well. It was great to finally train with my new team mates and get involved with all the team camaraderie, although with my ankle injury I have had to take it easy.” -- July 24, 2007.
* Danica Patrick (danicaracing.com): “Not how I wanted to start the season, but after I settled down and looked at the weekend, it could have been worse! Well, maybe not!” -- March 25, 2007.
* Tiger Woods (tigerwoods.com): “I’m getting ready to leave for the British Open, which starts next week at Carnoustie. As an amateur, I played Scottish Opens there in 1995 and 1996, and thought it was one of the best courses I’ve ever played. Then I came back and played the Open Championship in 1999 and my opinion changed.” -- July 2007.
* Gilbert Arenas (nba.com/blog/gilbert_arenas): “Right now I’m in the middle of making 100,000 shots over 73 days. It’s a little mini-series I do. Right now I’m shooting 69.7 percent from the three-point line and I’m shooting 79.3 percent, I think, from the college three.” -- July 26, 2007.
* Michael Vick (MikeVick.com): “The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.” -- July 30, 2007.
-- Jonathan Abrams