BEREA, Ohio -- Before the first practice of the first game week Monday, two days after backup cornerback and special teamer Gerard Lawson had been arrested downtown Cleveland for a hit-skip and DUI, Browns head coach Eric Mangini was lecturing his players.
On social media.
If it seems the Browns have the NFL's highest ratio of unnecessary, non-football related distractions to wins in recent years, it's because they pretty much do. And though Lawson's transgression is clearly more serious than Brandon McDonald's crude Twitter jab at Terrell Owens that went public Sunday, teams and the NFL have taken measures for years to educate their players and help them make good decisions before they put the keys in the ignition.
Players giving coaches gray hairs without leaving their hotel or living rooms is a relatively new phenomenon -- though Twitter-induced nonsense is hardly an issue exclusive to the Browns. The world's gone Twit and Facebook-crazy, and NFL players are interacting online like never before. That means fans are following their every move like never before.
That means tech-savvy players are building their own brands and having fun in the process. That also means moments of temporary numbskullery -- like McDonald's tweet that used vulgar language and insinuated vulgar things -- go public. And viral. And though it was just one stupid comment that probably was an inside joke more than actual threat of any type, it made the wrong kind of headlines. And it made Mangini take time from what's otherwise been the kind of low-key camp the coach likes to talk about...Twitter. Really.
"I don't expect people to stop using it," Mangini said. "It is a good way to communicate to our fans. We know with Browns fans, they can't have too much information, can't have too much of a connection and that's a great thing. But like with anything else that you do, you have to do it in the right way and a way that represents the organization the right way."
At least 17 Browns players have legitimate and active Twitter accounts, including "name" players such as Joshua Cribbs, Shaun Rogers, Eric Wright, D'Qwell Jackson, Joe Haden, Robaire Smith and Mohamed Massaquoi. That doesn't count the loser who's impersonating Jerome Harrison, or the ocassional laughs that come from the outwardly faux accounts for Mangini, Mike Holmgren and even Bernie Kosar.
Cribbs tops the list with nearly 34,000 followers, though Wright openly and regularly tells his 8,500 followers that he's the most entertaining of the bunch. McDonald, whose account is verified by Twitter as legitimate, has a little over 2,200. These guys should know better. McDonald knows he should know better. Last November, with the Browns well out of the playoff picture and their late-season surge still three full weeks from starting, McDonald hinted on Twitter that he was ready to pack it in.
"7 games left .. Da countdown has begun," he tweeted via MacMane22, a Twitter account that no longer exists. Though McDonald's starting job in the Browns' secondary no longer exists after the arrivals of Sheldon Brown and Haden this spring, the fourth-year pro has had an outstanding camp -- at least before his Monday that included missing practice to get treatment for a right ankle issue and a visit to the principal's office. And this explanation.
"I really didn't mean anything by it but it was a bad decision on my part, even putting that up," McDonald said. "One of the things I don't want to do is cause a distraction to this football team, and I think that's what it's become, because the way everyone's taken it is not really how it was meant. It was a bad decision on my part. I take full responsibility for that, and it won't happen again.'"
Give McDonald credit for being a good sport. He chuckled when told that Owens' response to FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez was: "I don't even know who he is. Is he Ronald McDonald?"
"I definitely won't be putting anything up like that again," McDonald said.
Mangini said he won't be following the lead of Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who has banned his players from posting on Twitter for the duration of the football season. The Browns' coach said fans would see nothing other than "his life is as boring as it seems" if he himself joined Twitter, though he joked it was a good thing Facebook and its photo-posting feature weren't around when he was in college.
Mangini wasn't joking when he fined rookie T.J. Ward after Ward's cell phone alarm went off in a Monday night meeting. How do we know this? Haden and Ward tweeted about it.
Mangini understands the digital show will go on, and he knows his players reaching out to fans will be a good thing if the Browns can keep things on the right path this fall. An hour after Monday's practice ended, Robaire Smith -- @BigHomie4real -- was on his iphone interacting with fans via Twitter. When someone with the handle @aincristi tweeted to Smith, "we appreciate all the browns players on twitter," Smith retweeted it with the note, "That's whats up!"
That's essentially all Mangini was trying to tell his players Monday. Tweet freely, but please think before you tweet.
That's what's up.
Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson, and check out his reports on all of Cleveland's sports teams on http://www.foxsportsohio.com!