Taking trash talk off the turf

On Thursday afternoon, ESPN's football guru Adam Schefter tweeted: "Player[s] rip Jay Cutler on Twitter. Packers complain about team picture on Twitter. Hasselbeck-Cromartie feud on Twitter. #Twitterswhereitsat"

Well, great minds think alike, because not 10 minutes before his astute observation, I had e-mailed my editors suggesting a story on the recent rash of "Twitter beefs," citing those exact examples. More and more athletes are taking their trash talk off the field and on to the interwebs, and just this week the "type first, think later" nature of the medium has come back to bite a few of them.

Last Sunday, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Eagles corner back Asante Samuel logged in and went off on Bears quarterback Cutler, accusing him of quitting after he failed to return from a second-quarter knee injury in the NFC Championship Game. More and more players, current and former, threw fuel on the Twitter fire, until the story out of Chicago was the league's opinion of Cutler and not the results of the game.

Earlier this week, injured Packers Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett took to Twitter to bemoan their exclusion from the team picture scheduled for next Tuesday, two days before the 16 Green Bay players on IR will arrive in Dallas. Their complaints inspired coach Mike McCarthy to move the photo session to Friday, but not before calling their public airing of grievances "a poor decision."

On Monday, while cleaning out his locker, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie responded to a question about a possible NFL lockout with an expletive-laden rant that would make even Rex Ryan blush. "You've got our head union reps acting like an [expletive]," he said, "and they got their guys acting like them [expletive]." Several players, including Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett, spoke out against Cromartie's comments, defending the players' association.

On Thursday, Matt Hasselbeck took things a step farther, posting to his Twitter account, "Somebody ask Cromartie if he knows what CBA stands for." He deleted the tweet almost immediately, but once you're caught on the Internet, there's no removing the evidence. After seeing the offending tweet, Cromartie stepped things up, cyber-bullying the Seahawks' signal-caller. "hey Matt," he tweeted, "if u have something to say be a man about it. Don't erase it. I will smash ur face in." Hasselbeck backed off, calling his comment a joke, but the damage was done, with their Twit tiff now a big story on countless websites.

Back in the day, if a player had a problem with an opponent, he took it out on him on the field. Whether it was a constant chirping in his ear (Hall of Famer John Randle turned that practice into an art) or a full-fledged brawl (see: Andre Johnson versus Cortland Finnegan) a guy defended his turf on his turf. Now it seems as though athletes have discovered a hybrid version of the courage afforded to anonymous commenters on blogs. Instead of saving a beef for game day or a chance meeting in the club, an athlete can fire off cyber-missiles from his couch, taking shots at will.

I'm not condoning midgame throwdowns, but there's something to be said for manning up after you put someone down. Dropping a bomb on Twitter then watching the results from afar isn't nearly the same as insulting a guy to his face then feeling the results in the form of a punch square in the jaw. Even though the former might hurt more, the effects of the latter may be more damning. Words, in black and white, are more likely to get an athlete in trouble than those muttered under his breath in the scrum. Just ask Matt Hasselbeck next time his Seahawks meet the Jets.

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