Whether Twitter (and social media in general) makes athletes more popular or less popular is certainly up for debate — it's probably both, depending on what exactly they use it for — but it is undeniable that without social media, the struggle for stories about these players during "down times" on the sports calendar would be very, very real.
Personally, I like Twitter the most when it is honest and a real reflection of who the athlete is. That would explain why the topic of Arian Foster contending that he could take down a wolf with his bare hands overtook my national radio show on Sunday night:
wanna go camping but "wildlife" scares the shit outta me.— Feeno (@ArianFoster) March 5, 2017
i honestly think i can get a wolf 1 on 1 tho.— Feeno (@ArianFoster) March 5, 2017
For the record, I had multiple calls from Alaskans to my show saying that Foster is absolutely nuts (duh!), one of them even citing the pounds per square inch that a wolf deploys when shredding an object with its fangs (wolf analytics!). It was a fun topic to spend kicking around, as it took us to a place where eventually callers were trying to figure out which deadly animal they would stand the best chance of beating with their bare hands. (Most prominent answer — NONE.)
Arian Foster may no longer be a Texan, but as long as he's on Twitter, he lives on in our minds, hearts, souls and laptops.
Fast-forward to Monday night, and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Peruse Watt's Twitter timeline, and over the past several weeks it's largely retweets from fans who bought tickets to his charity softball game (May 13, Minute Maid Park, tickets available at jjwfoundation.org) and retweets of combine/draft accolades for his younger brother, T.J. Watt, who is thought to be a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
There are no bold proclamations of how he could destroy a wolf with his bare hands (Fact: If any athlete could, it's a healthy J.J. Watt), and there are absolutely zero political statements (Why do you think J.J. Watt is so damn popular?). Hell, it took Watt's girlfriend, Houston Dash star Kealia Ohai, to change HER Facebook status and profile picture for the world to learn they were officially a couple!
But every now and again, J.J. Watt has a solid take on something sports-related. On Monday night, he tweeted this...
If someone encourages your child to specialize in a single sport, that person generally does not have your child's best interests in mind.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) March 7, 2017
We know that youth sports and after-school activities are a passion for J.J. Watt, as his foundation benefits numerous school systems to help them provide equipment and resources to conduct sports and activities. We also know that Watt grew up playing every sport under the sun. The freaking guy is good at hockey, for God's sake!
As a parent of three sports-playing kids myself and a daughter who runs track and cross country at the collegiate level, I couldn't agree with Watt's take more. The trend that's taken kids who love and have the athletic wherewithal to play multiple sports over different seasons down to specializing in one sport year-round is unfortunate and, oftentimes, unseemly.
For one, these are different lessons to be gleaned from playing different sports — universal lessons in teamwork and sacrifice, but also specialized lessons in strategy and use of different muscle groups. I'm a firm believer that being able to have substantial experiences in many things is better than inundation in one thing. (The Bill O'Brien Versatility Theory in play!) Second, playing different sports often avails kids to different groups of people and friends. There is nothing bad about that.
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But more to the point that I think Watt was driving at, in the unsavory specialization realm, kids and parents begin to brush up against the lunatic fringe of parents and coaches (and even the slimeball outer fringe when you begin to get into handlers in high school). A lot of specialization is a money grab by "private coaches" planting dreams of stardom down the road in the heads of kids and parents, a vast majority of whom end up on the scrap heap (simple math — only so many people get to the levels that these coaches brag about on their clientele page).
It's why I don't watch the Little League World Series on TV, quite honestly. There's just something a little weird about watching a bunch of sixth graders from around the world getting the Major League treatment on ESPN, knowing full well that, in 2017, a lot of these kids are probably being asked to play baseball and ONLY baseball by delusional parents. Hey, maybe my abstaining from watching it makes me the lunatic. Whatever.
But back to the original point...yes, J.J. Watt! Totally agree! Play lots of sports, kids. Dream big. Work hard. Hunt greatness. And for the love of God, do NOT flip any 1,000-pound tires.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.