I wanted to briefly note the passing of my favorite personality to follow on Twitter. Since he began tweeting Dan Ellis developed a strong niche and was soon the family friendly, albeit equally quirky, alternative to Mr. BizNasty. We could speculate on whether the decision to leave twitter was his, Tampa Bay's, or a mutual agreement by both parties but I do hope to someday see the return of Ellis to Twitter.
There have been numerous posts over the past couple days coming down on both sides of DanEllisgate, and other blogs discussing how the situation was handled by Ellis and by the fans following him on Twitter. I want to step away from a direct discussion of the events and from a statement of personal opinion on the incident. What we as an Internet community and hockey fans witnessed is the evolution of the relationship that exists between professional athletes, really celebrities in general, and the fan bases.
Like in any relationship a psychological contract exists between the two parties. As fans we clearly know what we expect from the athletes: dedication to the team, hard work, consistent play, entertainment, being polite to fans, etc. The expectations of the athletes themselves likely vary somewhat based on sport and personality. Athletes certainly understand that their performance will be evaluate and criticized by fans they can also expect fan support and understand that fans are patrons and customers that support the athlete's job. With the advent of social media, and in this case Twitter, fans and athletes have an unbelievable high degree of communication that simply was unheard of just a few years ago. So, what then happens to the psychological contract between pro athletes and fans when you introduce a new means of communication and a new avenue of sports entertainment? Answering that question is where the recent Dan Ellis "fiasco" becomes a case study.
Basically what happened was that Ellis' comments violated, for some, the psychological contract between the parties. When Ellis tweeted about trivial things like cars, coffee drinks, and his eating habits people were entertained. When Ellis tweeted about his family, shared photos of his son, and spoke his mind fans gained a deeper understanding of who Ellis was as a person, and people developed respect for him. The fans began to develop a unique relationship with Ellis that traditionally had not existed between athletes and fans. And any relationship that develops over digital media is a challenge due to the loss of non-verbal communication as well as vocal indications as to the intent of a given statement. So then, how did the psychology contract adapt and what expectations were added or were changed due to the evolving relationship?
Clearly the fallout showed the various adaptations ranging from acceptance and/or understanding to confusion and disbelief and ending with anger and/or contempt. What I see happening are bumps and bruises that come with abruptly having to develop new mental contracts. How are we the fans supposed to treat and act towards pro-athletes that communicate with us on a regular basis? Athletes probably have a more difficult time answering new questions as: How are athletes supposed to treat fans? How much should athletes share, what comments should they hold back, what topic are appropriate? I am certain that everyone could come up with overlapping and unique answers to any and all of these questions. They are questions that each fan and athlete alike, are working on answering as we continue to interact through social media. Sadly one of Twitter's best was a victim in this ongoing developmental process.
On a personal note I hope that much like BizNasty returned to twitter, Dan Ellis would have a similar reemergence. He certainly made a mistake and the Internet reacted as it does, but at some point the e-bloodlust will subside and more folks will miss the Ellis' candid nature. On a positive note, future pro athlete twitters can learn from past events and psychological contracts develop and evolve we the fans will hopefully continue to reap the benefits of hockey players playing with social media.