By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The decision to stay off Twitter that was made recently by members of the Iowa men’s basketball team was a wise move under the current circumstances.
The players need all the help they can get as they try to turnaround a once-promising season. And if they feel that staying off Twitter for the rest of the season will help, then who are we to argue?
If they feel that staying off Twitter will make it easier to focus on Thursday’s game against either Illinois or Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, then more power to them because the players have a lot more at stake than anybody else does.
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz made the decision to ban his players from using Twitter shortly after it was created more than a decade ago and Ferentz hasn’t wavered on that decision.
Twitter can be a blessing or a curse.
My beloved dog LaKota was laid to rest on Feb. 25th and I was so appreciative of the support and sympathy that came from people on Twitter.
Their kindness helped me get through the initial devastation that comes from losing a loved one.
The same thing happened when my father passed away last March. I paid tribute to him on Twitter and the response was so uplifting and helped a great deal with the grieving process.
Twitter also helps to spread news and build your brand due to its vast audience and immediacy.
But unfortunately, there is an unpleasant side to Twitter, and to social media in general, where mocking, irreverence and ridicule are common themes.
The Iowa men’s basketball players have set themselves up to be mocked and ridiculed by losing their final four regular-season games.
This past Sunday’s 93-91 overtime loss at Nebraska in which Iowa blew a 16-point lead in the second half led to a meltdown on Twitter.
Fans have a right to be upset and frustrated, but they cross the line by taking personal shots at the players and coaches on Twitter.
Though probably just a small minority of fans use Twitter for that purpose, even a small minority can be a huge distraction and can hurt feelings.
It’s important to remember that we’re talking about student-athletes who are mostly between the ages of 18 and 22 and still very impressionable.
Twitter also allows its users to post under an alias, so there is no real fear or concern about consequences or confrontation.
Combine that with the immediacy and convenience with posting on Twitter and you have a recipe for trolling.
It seems likely that all of the Iowa players, or at least most of them, are on Twitter with some more active than others. Some of the player also seem to take the criticism more personal than others.
Junior point guard Jordan Bohannon is very active and popular on Twitter, and most of his exchanges are positive.
But it only takes a few snarky or negative responses to spoil the fun and to become a distraction.
Jordan's older brother, Zach Bohannon, told me recently that he mostly avoids Twitter now because he gets upset with the criticism directed at Jordan.
And that's just unfortunate.
This marks the second time that members of the Iowa men’s basketball team have had a Twitter ban. The first time happened in 2014 when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery instructed his players to shut down their Twitter accounts for the rest of the season after senior forward Zach McCabe exchanged barbs with detractors on the social media service.
It’s easy to say the players should either ignore or use the criticism as motivation when we’re not in their shoes.
The players’ decision to stay off Twitter has nothing to do with lacking toughness or resolve, and everything to do with staying locked in on the task at hand.
I’m about 30 years older than the typical college athlete, and yet, I still struggle at times to ignore the negativity on Twitter. Instead of resisting the temptation to argue back and forth, I sometimes allow myself to get sucked into a hostile exchange despite it being counterproductive and a no-win situation.
So if it’s hard for someone my age to keep Twitter from being a distraction, imagine how it must be for a college kid.
Posting something on Twitter is so easy and takes so little time or thought that anybody with a cell phone or a computer can do it. And that’s almost everybody these days.
I posted on Twitter last week that the Iowa players should stay off Twitter for the rest of the season because the vitriol was rising with each loss.
As it turns out, they already had made that decision and now the players have one less distraction.
Once the season ends, the players can get back on Twitter if that is their preference, although, you could make a strong case for staying off it permanently while playing for the Hawkeyes.
Ferentz was accused of being too old-fashioned, too rigid and too controlling when he prohibited his players from being on Twitter.
But now it makes sense because Ferentz was protecting his players and trying to limit their distractions at a time when they already had enough distractions.
So it makes sense that members of the Iowa men’s basketball would do the same thing right now.
Because why risk the temptation?