Friday, July 15, 2011

Sports Q&A: Ward’s Twitter Wars

By Jeffrey Boswell

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was arrested for drunken driving, a charge he is disputing. His arrest prompted a testy Twitter exchange between the Ravens' Ray Rice and Ward's teammate, Ryan Clark. First of all, is Ward guilty? And second, should Twitter be the forum of choice in the war of words inherent to NFL football?

Often, in cases involving NFL stars accused of crimes, the question isn't about guilt, but the lengths that a player will go to contest that guilt. That became evident when Ward's lawyer, Andrew Ree, with his hand nowhere near a bible, issued a statement saying Ward was not impaired and cooperated fully with police. However, police say Ward failed field sobriety tests and became agitated during the tests. Somebody's lying. Or looking for a plea deal. Reports indicate that Ward was glassy-eyed, wobbly on his feet, and reeked of alcohol. That's a pretty clear indication that he's drunk, or eligible to date Ben Roethlisberger.

Ward told the arresting officer that he had two bottles of Corona three hours earlier at a restaurant. Unless Corona's introduced their new gallon bottle, then Ward's claim seems dubious. The officer said he had a "low tolerance" for liars, then administered a series of sobriety tests, all of which Ward failed.

During those tests, which are quickly becoming administered more often to NFL players than the Wonderlic, Ward had trouble keeping his balance and mixed up and omitted letters in the alphabet, behavior expected of someone impaired by alcohol, or possibly someone left incapacitated by a James Harrison helmet-to-helmet hit. Ree will surely argue in court that Ward couldn't reasonably assume that police were asking for recitation of the English alphabet. In this age of abbreviated text messages and email, should anyone be expected to recite any language's full alphabet?

Yes, Ree will argue, except an NFL player fatigued from a 2:30 AM drive, the mental anguish resulting from an extended player lockout, and the exhaustion that comes with a reign as "Dancing With the Stars" championship glory. In legal-speak, it's called "B.S." and in courtrooms frequented by NFL players flaunting high-powered lawyers, it often "flies."

If that doesn't explain Ward's odd behavior, then Ree will likely break out the heavy artillery — Ward's mother is Korean, so it's clearly a case of genetics that he would be "half-Orient-ed." It's hard to argue with DNA evidence, and Ree knows this.

Two beers would not explain Ward's behavior, yet his attitude suggested he felt he was being wronged. Was it all a big misunderstanding? If so, what would this situation be called? The "Immaculate Misconception," of course.

Anyway, the evidence appears lopsided in the law's favor, so it's likely Ward and Ree will experience some type of attorney-client synergy when they both "come to their senses." The result: a guilty plea to a lesser charge.

After news of Ward's arrest broke, Ray Rice of the Ravens took to Twitter, posting that Ward's DWI was "not a good look." Them's not quite fighting words, but Pittsburgh cornerback Ryan Clark took it as such, and tweeted "I'll find you" in response to Rice. Notice that Ward has not even involved himself in the feud, but that's not because the handcuffs make it difficult to key on a tiny keyboard. It's because Ward will lay a Raven out on September 11th when Pittsburgh visits Baltimore. And the victim won't see it coming via Twitter.

Members of the Steelers and Ravens organizations should be ashamed that their players have resorted to social media for trash talk, and even more disturbingly, had the decency to use clean language in the process. There's no room for etiquette in a rivalry as steeped in hatred as the Ravens/Steelers.

The Steelers Rashard Mendenhall once famously texted that he was going to have a big game against the Ravens defense in a 2008 matchup. Ray Lewis didn't respond via social media; he answered with a tackle that broke Mendenhall's arm. That's as close to "unfriending" as Lewis will get.

As Lewis, and many others know, the words "Twitter" and tweet" won't strike fear into anyone. Twitter and other social media platforms are great for breaking news, important personal announcements, sharing recipes, reporting play-by-play during a traffic stop, and publishing obscene photos, among other things. But not for trash talk. What self-respecting NFL player can with good conscience say the words, "I Tweeted some trash talk?" Apparently, some Steelers and Ravens can. Some things are better left "said."

Trash talk was meant to be spoken, not merely thought and transcribed via the fingertips to a social media outlet. When trash talk is said, it's often spontaneous, natural, and free of bad punctuation. When it's Tweeted, it's often much too premeditated, and any emotion is lost. Not only is it not intimidating, it's downright cowardly. Of all people, Ravens and Steelers, principals in what is currently to NFL's most-heated rivalry, should realize this.

It's called "smack talk," not sm@ck talk.

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