When Louisville sophomore Kevin Ware landed awkwardly on his right leg this past Sunday, snapping his tibia so violently it caused the bone to protrude through his skin, most viewers and fans saw the true meaning of brotherhood. His teammates and coach, though visibly shaken and disturbed, helped Ware through the trying time, doing their best to comfort him in what was surely one of the worst moments of his life. During that moment, all Ware could tell his teammates was that they needed to seize the opportunity they had in front of them. Unfortunately, there were others out there who used the situation to seize another opportunity.
Twitter has become a prominent tool for consuming not only sports news, but all news. The ability for companies to see exactly who follows them has done wonders for branding. The platform allows stars, athletes, media personalities and fans to connect like never before. But while it's become a go-to for the consumption of quick information, it's also been the culprit behind a great deal of misinformation at the same time. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting comes to mind as the greatest example, but there are plenty of others since the social media medium's release that could be scrutinized as well.
While Ware was lying on the ground in agonizing pain, dozens of viewers immediately logged onto their computers and created fake Twitter handles in his name. They started tweeting as if they were Ware himself, some jokingly, others not. We don't need to go too far into the motivation of the perpetrators, but suffice it to say that these individuals must be lonely and looking to feel important. It's unfortunate that this is how they need to go about fulfilling those needs, but as the saying goes, it is what it is. Throughout history, there have always been people looking to take advantage of other's misfortunes. As much as we'd all like that to change, it won't. But that doesn't mean that the NCAA can't at least try to do something about the way it affects its players and its institutions.
There are dozens of examples of tweets sent out from these fraud accounts that could have caused some type of harm to the NCAA, Louisville or even Ware himself. I'm going to focus on one, though I'm sure many could argue that there were worse offenses committed. I'm fully acknowledging that.
One Twitter handle, @LifeAsKevinWare, tweeted out the below in reference to Ware's medical bills.
Of course, by law, that type of fact would never be released - not to mention it's an absurdly high number that you'd have to almost be a complete fool to believe. But guess what? The tweet has 62,000 retweets. Granted, some of those users realized what they were retweeting was bogus and mentioned such, but the damage was still done. Plus, with the statement that by retweeting you'll help cover the bills, there is the implication that Ware is somehow going to be stuck with a portion of the invoice himself.
The fact is, Ware won't have to pay a dime for his surgery. His personal insurance, Louisville's insurance for athletic injuries and the NCAA's policy for championship events will cover everything. But tens of thousands of people are now misinformed, simply because a fake Kevin Ware Twitter handle decided to tweet out some ridiculous "fact" so he/she could watch his/her followers and retweet counts grow.
Other fake accounts popped up as well, one (@5KevinWare) reaching over 39,000 followers. This one fooled even Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who eventually showed his disgust and vowed to call Ware instead.
This can be damaging to the reputations of both the NCAA and Louisville. People tend to believe everything they read, and most of the world isn't well-versed enough with Twitter and social media to be able to discern what's real and what's fake. "Oh, it's coming from a Twitter handle with the name Kevin Ware, so that must be him." It's like the State Farm commercial in which the woman thinks everything they "put on the Internet" is true. Except that this really happens.
The NCAA and its member schools already get enough criticism for the way they handle countless other issues, many of which are often out of their control. But steps can be taken to help fix this one - and it's such a simple solution.
Ask (don't force) schools to keep a record of each athlete's Twitter handle and display them online. That's it. Right next to height, weight, class, etc., make a column for Twitter handle. Right there on their profile. Take the guessing game out of it. If we'd had a system like that in place on Sunday, we wouldn't have needed the Darren Rovell's of the world to finally tweet out Ware's real handle (@_billionarebev) basically a full day after the injury.
What are the negatives? The amount of work it would take? Players fill out all kinds of forms to play for their universities. Adding one more line item is harmless. And if we can avoid situations like this in the future, it'd be beyond worth the tiny investment. If a player doesn't have a Twitter handle or doesn't want to make it public, that's fine. The school could simply put "None" or "Null" instead. But at least at that point, the player him/herself is making the decision. If fakes pop up because he/she doesn't list a handle, it's something the player made possible.
The NCAA has long been looked at as a reactive organization. If it wants to change that perception, getting smarter about the way it handles social media would be a great place to start.