Three years ago, if you asked an NFL player if he tweeted, you would be just as likely to get punched in the mouth as get an answer. In the current day, however, Twitter has become the social networking medium of choice for the entire country, including the NFL.
Bryant McKinnie cut his own throat at the Pro Bowl via Twitter, discussing parties that were "off the chain" late into the evening before a practice – a practice that McKinnie missed and would eventually result in him being dismissed from the team.
During the preseason, the War of the Tweets between Darren Sharper and Visanthe Shiancoe got so intense that violence and the intent to injure was implied – even if the real intention was to entertain – to which Shiancoe said, "The only reason Sharper was talking tough was because he knew he wasn't going to play." As it turned out, it was just tough Twitter talk by players long known for their trash talk.
The NFL has taken notice of the social network, forbidding tweeting by the media during practices and frowning upon players using Twitter as a forum to criticize officials or other players/coaches around the league. While some players, like Cincinnati's Chad Ochocinco, continue to push the boundaries of those unwritten laws, every now and then a player tweets something that gets national attention,
Enter Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills as the latest NFL Twitter casualty. Johnson, who was unknown to just about everyone except fantasy football owners for much of the season, had four drops in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers. One of them came on a perfectly thrown bomb to the end zone that would have won the game for the Bills. Instead, the drop led to a Buffalo punt and, on the next possession, the Steelers drove into field goal range and won the game.
After the game, Johnson tweeted his frustration about the situation, which drew a firestorm of controversy. He wasn't calling out an official, a teammate or an opponent. Johnson was calling out God.
In a Twitter-style meltdown, Johnson sent an open tweet to God, writing, "I praise you 24/7!!! And this is how you do me!!! You expect me to learn from this??? I'll never forget this!! Ever!! Thx Tho."
Aside from the heavy punctuation finger being in play, many of the Vikings – some Twitter enthusiasts and others not – weighed in on the controversy. Johnson didn't find any supporters in the Vikings locker room, many of whom were shocked to hear about the inflammatory tweet.
Lito Sheppard said that players routinely praise God for their success, but he had never heard of such a thing as blaming God for dropped passes. He said he's dropped many a potential interception over the years and never considered blaming the God for his butterfingers.
"I'm in a blessed predicament even to make it this far as an NFL player," Sheppard said. "I would never put the blame on God."
While some players are avid Twitter types, rookie Chris Cook said he rarely uses his Twitter account for just that reason, but, he, too, found it hard to fathom that Johnson would throw the onus on God for the Bills' loss last week.
"I didn't even know about that until today," Cook said. "I'm not much of a Twitter guy. That last time I probably tweeted was a month ago, so it isn't something I follow. When I heard the guys saying he was blaming God, at first I thought they were joking. I don't know what would even make that come to your mind."
Shiancoe, who has been at the center of Twitter controversies of his own, said any problems he has had that are due to ill-advised tweets pale in comparison to Johnson's venomous outburst.
"You don't blame God," Shiancoe. "I just thought, ‘Are you crazy? You don't blame God for things like that.' At the same time, you have to let him handle his business. It's a strange situation."
Punter Chris Kluwe, a big Twitter fan that made a splash by mocking the league's amateurish video of describing what helmet-to-helmet hits would be punishable by fines or suspensions, found humor in the situation, saying that maybe Johnson had a point, but would he do such a thing? Maybe, but God would truly have to have a divine hand in that happening.
"Me personally? No, not a chance," Kluwe said. "Unless a lightning bolt descended from the heavens and blew the ball up while I was kicking it, I probably would leave God out of it."
Greg Camarillo shared the sentiment, saying that he's dropped his share of passes and gets angry at himself (not God), but said that situations like that – where someone tweets before they think an emotional situation through is why he has avoided Twitter like the plague.
"I'm not a Tweeter, a Twitter or one who tweets," Camarillo said. "That's not my gig. Everybody drops a pass, man. Obviously, as a receiver, it sucks. But you should blame yourself. I understand his frustration but it wasn't the best way to address it."
Johnson has enjoyed a breakout season, even though it comes in the relative obscurity of Buffalo. However, now he has become a bigger name, not because of his ability, but because of his blasphemous tweet. In a 24-hour NFL media world, his drop made headlines. His tweet just compounded the problem.
"I think it's a tough, tough business where every mistake you make is on national TV and rerun 100 times an hour," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "I'm sure he was just venting on what he was thinking. Unfortunately, in this Twitter age – which is why I don't do it – you put your thoughts out there. He was honest with what he was feeling, but then people had a second reason to look at the drop. It just seemed to make a bad situation worse."
Within a couple of weeks, the Twitter episode with Johnson will fade into the closet of sports stories that are big news one day and be all but forgotten. But, for a player who should be recognized for his athletic gifts and strong season, he is instead being noticed for all the wrong reasons.
In the end, Johnson has apologized and seen the error of his ways. He has learned not to call out God because he dropped a pass – which begs the question, "Do you suppose Troy Williamson has a Twitter account?"
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings react to blasphemous tweet
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