Social media is an element of team management that Chuck Noll almost surely never envisioned. Sure, he may have had to deal with one of his players shooting at a police helicopter, as tends to happen from time to time, but even in that, the media coverage of such an event in the 1970s is nothing like it would be today.
In Pittsburgh Steelers history, though, nobody has had to deal with social media the way Mike Tomlin has. Much of it was still in its infancy by the time Bill Cowher walked away. Facebook was still new, and niche, rather than ubiquitous. Twitter was barely getting started.
Now Tomlin and damn near every one of his players is on it. And perhaps the main reason that Tomlin got an account in the first place was to better keep track of, and occasionally respond to when necessary, his players.
But Tomlin has for the most part had a very hands-off approach when it comes to handling social media with his players, which has clearly had its ups and downs. We know all about the downs, I think, so we don’t need to go into vigorous detail.
His philosophy is merely an extension of the broad approach he has always taken with his players, which is essentially to treat them like adults and expect them to be accountable. It works for the vast majority of the locker room. It will never be foolproof. No strategy will be.
In light of some of the Steelers’ very high-profile attention on social media this offseason, it’s no surprise that the topic has been focused on quite a bit this offseason. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review just had a broad articles about all Pittsburgh sports on social media usage, but largely commented on the football team’s pitfalls.
Director of communications Burt Lauten was a minor contributor to the piece, offering a simple statement about the team’s approach. “We just want to make sure we educate our players to make them understand that what they do on social media, other people in the organization have to speak for it as well”, he told author Jonathan Bombulie.
Has this been effective? It’s hard to say. It seems that this is being enforced more earnestly following recent events, and largely from the locker room itself, because it’s the players who have grown weary of answering questions for other people, sometimes with those people not even present.
Bombulie reminded us of what Ramon Foster said earlier this offseason. “Why do we have to answer for something, and the guy that said it isn’t in the locker room?”, he asked. “You can say whatever you want to, but moving forward, if we can’t directly answer for it, keep that heat, please”.
The Steelers want to be in nothing but the business of winning football games this season. That means keeping distractions to an absolute minimum. But no matter how tidy you keep your own house, the dirt still encroaches from the outside.