Over the last several years, my fascination with social media, including most of my foray into blogging and tweeting, has been related to the sports world and the notion of fandom in that sense. A lot of the lessons I’ve learned about these forms of media, and how they change and work us over have come from my own personal obsession with sports culture, banter, and the sense of community that arises from the passion fans feel for their favorite teams and players.
My early blogging days began with a move to Japan and an unhealthy obsession with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who I’d hoped would join the Yankees. It continued on with a general writing habit fueled by my Nippon Prospectus column at Baseball Prospectus, and has evolved (devolved?) into a lot of tweeting about sports in general, and especially basketball as fate would have it. My more serious academic pursuits have always involved education, politics, and public discourse and the intersection of media and communication with each. Sports, however, have been the primary testing ground for my most intense experiences with social media.
One of the things I’ve learned over the last several years, with the advent of Twitter most notably, is that news breaks early and often with respect to the wheelings and dealings of sports franchises. A rumor becomes a confirmed story in the blink of an eye and nothing is ever a secret for long before everyone in “listening distance” knows about it. Journalism, in general, works this way in the 21st century, where information and disinformation spread like wildfire before the traditional legwork has had a chance to take place. The long slog of the confirmed story, with multiple sources, is over. The rush from the source to the phone to the typewriter to the typesetter to the press to the truck to the corner paperboy is a long-since-departed process of news.
The things I’ve learned via social media about the trades, signings, injuries, and other matters important to fans is staggering. The number of times new information has flooded my various timelines as I click ‘refresh’ every 10 seconds is both extraordinary and slightly disturbing. A glimmer of breaking news for a sports fan can become several days of obsessive message-checking and web-hunting and one that promises great reward to the real fanatic. I’ve been both participant observer, in the academic sense, and slightly sick-in-the-head fan from time to time.
Ichiro Suzuki, the lifelong Seattle Mariner and Japanese cultural icon, was traded today from the floundering, last place Mariners to the high-priced, first place Yankees. My Yankees. It’s beside the point that I’ve never been an Ichiro fan, or that more than occasionally I’ve been a detractor. I was thrilled at the news, and what’s more, completely taken by surprise. Nothing had been reported in the slower, traditional forms of mass media about the Yankees, the Mariners, or any potential movement for Ichiro, the face of the Mariners franchise. Nothing had been floated in the various rumor mills on the internet. No one had speculated that it was time for Ichiro to move on, or that he’d even want to for that matter (at least in most of the popular press), and then it was done.
Sources inside professional sports franchises, or with agents, tend to leak information about even the most minor moves, so something of this magnitude flying under cover is really a rarity on the order of flying pigs. Not a peep was heard until the ink was dry and Ichiro was being fitted for the Yankees road greys, number 31. Being a fan, with a history of Yankees and Japan-related social media work, especially, this story would have dragged me along the fast moving road of speculation and nuance and breaking news had it taken the normal course. As it were, this was a reminder of an age rapidly passing us by, when fans woke up to the morning edition and some spectacular and surprising news about a change in the team. It didn’t follow the typical mode of information flow in this world of ubiquitous messaging, but rather it seemed quaint and nostalgic if only for a moment, and ought to be a warning of sorts that some things are best kept secret in a world of information overload. Just like Christmas.