Tweeting your way to a misconduct hearing

Footballers and Twitter

This week has seen Burnley striker, Andre Gray, in the news, once again, as the footballer heard his fate before an Independent Commission for offensive and inappropriate tweets, that dated back to 2012 - a period of time in which he played for non-league team, Hinckley United. The Commission held that Gray was guilty of misconduct and in turn, handed a 4 match suspension along with a fine of £25,000. Gray's case should serve as a stark warning to all prominent and aspiring sportsmen and women, that your tweet need not be in the present moment for you to land yourself in hot water.

However, Gray is not the first footballer to find themselves in front of their national governing body for offensive tweets. In fact, Twitter, since it's launch in 2006, has become quite the headache for associations, leagues and clubs as they attempt to deal with the risks of the social media platform.

Ryan Babel

In January 2011, Ryan Babel, became the first footballer to be sanctioned for his use of Twitter. Babel had just exited the FA Cup, with his team Liverpool, at Old Trafford and was unhappy with a decision made by Referee, Howard Webb. Babel later took to Twitter and tweeted a mock-photo of Webb wearing a superimposed Manchester Utd. shirt, hinting the referee was biased.

Babel was fined £10,000 by the FA for the tweet with the Commission Chairman stating:

"Social network sites, like Twitter, must be regarded as being in the public domain and all participants need to be aware, in the same way as if making a public statement in other forms of media, that any comments would be transmitted to a wider audience. It is their responsibility to ensure only appropriate comments are used."

Carlton Cole

In April 2011, Carlton Cole, who was playing for West Ham at the time, was fined £20,000 by the FA for tweets that were considered as inflammatory with a focus on immigration.

Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker, Wayne Rooney, has found himself with a couple of warnings from the FA for abusive tweets towards other users (Liverpool fan) but also for 'passing off' whereby Rooney passed off an advert for Nike as a personal comment. The latter tweet saw action taken by The Advertising Standards Authority who banned any repeat of such tweets and gave a warning to Nike.

Ashley Cole

In October 2012, then Chelsea left-back, Ashley Cole, tweeted an offensive post giving his thoughts on the FA's judgement in the John Terry case (alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand), whereby they questioned evidence given by Cole, in the criminal trial. The tweet went viral and Cole was fined £90,000

Jack Wilshere

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere found himself in hot water with UEFA when he 'joked' on Twitter that he was putting a bet on a friend, a fellow footballer, scoring a goal in an upcoming match. UEFA did not fine Wilshere but gave him a warning and reminded him of the rules in relation to sport betting.

Rio Ferdinand

In August 2012, Rio Ferdinand was at the other end of a £45,000 fine for a tweet, directed at fellow-footballer, Ashley Cole, whereby Cole was referred to as a "choc ice" - slang term for black on the outside but white on the inside.

Michael Chopra

In 2014, Michael Chopra, received a £10,000 fine from his club for a tweet that vented at the poor turnout at a recent training session and alleged that the fitness coach took the skills session. This case shows an example of how a tweet can get a player into trouble if it discloses confidential club business.

Coleen Rooney

Perhaps least expected, Wayne Rooney, was at the end of a Manchester United warning as a result of a tweet that he didn't post - but came from his wife, Coleen Rooney's account. Coleen tweeted to her followers, one Friday evening in 2011, that she and Wayne were watching a DVD. You might think, at first glance, that this is simply an innocent tweet and many wouldn't think twice about it. However, she inadvertently informed the team's opponent, for that following day, that Wayne would not be playing. If he was in the squad for that game, he would not have been at home with Coleen.

This case shows that even the most innocent of tweets can land you in hot bother.

Kieran Bowell (Scottish Youth Team Player)

The case of Kieran Bowell serves as a very expensive lesson to all aspiring players, and indeed players at any level, that your tweets can be acted upon and could end your career.

Bowell (16) was captain of Berwick Rangers' Under-17s team when he posted a comment on Twitter concerning the posting of a parcel bomb to then Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. The tweet was deemed so offensive that Bowell's team terminated his contract with immediate effect and was forced to release a statement distancing themselves from Bowell's comments.

Guidelines & Rules

It was such examples of inappropriate tweets that prompted national governing bodies, globally, to issue guidelines in order to regulate and prevent the misuse of twitter and protect the reputation of the players, clubs and authorities. The guidelines aimed to address the issues and educate players on the negative consequences that '140 characters or less' can have on their reputation. They provide further advice on the potential offences/sanctions, as well as focusing on social platform audience sizes, brand endorsement and protecting confidential information.

Twitter can give rise to a number of offences with players finding themselves in breach of not only their governing bodies rules, but also club rules and even facing criminal or civil actions.

National Governing Bodies', such as the FA and SFA, rules on general conduct are usually wide in scope and require members to: act in the best interests of the game, not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute and refrain from using words which are insulting or offensive. A breach of these rules can be aggravated if such behaviour refers to either sexual orientation, gender, colour or race. A breach of those rules can result in sanctions for misconduct including fines and match suspensions, as demonstrated above.

However, if used carefully and sensibly, Twitter carries many benefits and can be an asset to both club and player. Twitter allows for unprecedented level of fan engagement and football without the fans is nothing. Once upon a time, fans could only interact with their 'heroes' at the stadium or pre-arranged 'meet and greets' with all the formalities that come with those. Nowadays, fans can engage with their favourite players from the comfort of their homes, they can keep up-to-date with their daily thoughts and activities whilst receiving regular updates in a relaxed environment and even whilst on the move through their mobile phones. The same applies to the Clubs who can interact with their fan base and tweet regular updates from training sessions, club trips etc - all the time keeping the fan engaged and feeling as if they are very much a part of what is happening at club level.

Further, Twitter provides a wonderful opportunity for players and clubs to be in control of their own image and how they want to be perceived to their fanbase and of course, further afield. It provides a platform in which to develop their brand and encourage sponsorship and marketing opportunities with the potential for their tweets to be seen by millions.

So as you can see, if handled wisely, Twitter can be an asset to both players and clubs but it is important to educate and provide guidance to players, especially the younger players coming through the academies, on the dangers of social media platforms and the consequences that just a couple of sentences could have not only on their own image but the club's image, and possibly their career.

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