The digital age clearly provides tremendous opportunity for growth on all levels. But, it also has created a certain “reality TV meets the Internet” type of world, and those in the spotlight should be aware of the long-term effects. For athletes, it will most certainly impact their legacy and ultimately, how we will remember them.

Eileen Wisnewski, a fellow contributor at Access Athletes, makes several great points in her article “Image Strategy for Celebrity Athletes – What About YOUR Image?” She poses the question to college students and recent grads and asks if they have thought about how they are presenting themselves in the public space. Eileen’s piece, combined with the recent passing last month of the late Giants’ baseball great, Bobby Thompson, gave me reason to pause and think about how today’s athletes will be remembered.
Thompson, who, like all of the greats of his era, played in a day when newspaper clippings and radio play-by-play reigned supreme. He will forever be remembered for his Shot Heard ‘Round the World” 1951 pennant winning homerun (the original “walk-off” homerun, if you will). When you mention the name of any great, elite athlete who competed prior to this digital revolution, prolific images come to mind immediately. Whether it’s the Baltimore Colts vs. the New York Giants 1958 NFL Championship Game (dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (and brought to you in stunning black and white TV!), Yankee legend and Mr. October, Reggie Jackson’s epic three homerun 1977 World Series game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, or Lou Gehrig saying goodbye to his fans and the game he loved so dearly during his unforgettable and impassioned speech at Yankee Stadium; there are hundreds of examples of how athletes were immortalized in newspaper articles, radio play-by-play calls, and videotape. For the most part, we will forever remember those visual and audio images in a positive way.
But how we will remember the careers of today’s athletes is far different. Their images and reputations – and legacies – can suffer major damage within seconds with the wrong tweet, text, voicemail, status update, comment, etc. Right now there are athletes who want to be celebrities so bad, they’re not stopping to consider the consequences of their actions before they speak – or should I say, “tweet.” Will this harm their legacies? And when does personal branding go too far?
Some of the basic questions athletes should ask themselves before they go public with whatever they choose to say or do, include:
  • “How will this affect me – will it make me a better person or player?”
  • How will it impact my teammates?
  • What will the organization I play for/sponsors that represent me/etc. think?
And as Paul Koch, SVP Investments Wealth Advisor with UBS puts it,
  • “How will it make me look on the 10 O’Clock News?”
An athlete’s ability to manage his online reputation as well as his off the field reputation is critical. As Eileen points out, some of the most common places to be conscious of your public image are Facebook, voicemail, email, texts, Twitter, and YouTube. Having an opinion and wanting to let the world know is fine (well, in most instances). But remember, you can’t be “misquoted” on Twitter or your social media vehicle of choice, so think before you tweet!
Developing a strategy for how you are going to manage your online reputation and public profile is necessary if you’re going to be successful at it. Think about what you want to be known for and how you want to be viewed when your name comes up. Be mindful of everything you say, text, tweet and do, because it can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion.
So, what will you be remembered for?