Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The NHL vs. The Internet

The Jiri Tlusty naked photo mess has highlighted just how damaging the Internet can be to a player's reputation when the players aren't careful about their activities. Like it or not, there are those who want to take advantage of an athlete's name and use it for nefarious purposes.

As Chuck Gormley of The Sporting News reports, the NHL wants to make its players aware of a world that many of them know little about. Unbeknownst to many players, they are posers pretending to be an NHL player, and often getting away with it.

"Go on MySpace and type in anybody in this (locker) room and there will be someone posing," said Carter, who is single. "I have a friend who said she sent pictures to my MySpace and I don't even have a MySpace. She said, 'Oh, I've been talking to you for the past month and a half.'"

Umberger, who is married, went online and discovered there were four people posing as him on their own web pages. When he found that some were soliciting women, he had all four accounts canceled.

I've seen a few such sites, and they range from harmless 'role playing' (a game where people make no bones about playing the role of a player, and disclose that they are not the actual athlete) to actual identity theft, where many are duped into believing that Jason Smith actually spends six hours a day on his Facebook account.

Unfortunately, it will take a combined effort between the NHL and its clubs to ensure that their athletes are protected.

My solution would be for each club to have one of its employees act as an IT watchdog for their players. Between the clubs and the NHL, these people would scour the internet, ensuring that any MySpace-like accounts are legitimate, and make sure that any false accounts are deleted. It's so incredibly simple for someone to set up an account and pretend that they are an athlete, and an amazing amount of people seem to fall for it.

Since ye olde newspapers are hardly the force they used to be, teams need to focus more of their energy on the media that most fans use, which is definitely the Internet. What goes on TV and Newspapers can more easily be controlled, but the Internet allows fans to get around any controls the NHL has in place for the more established channels.

For the new breed of athlete that does use the Internet often (such as Tlusty), they'll need to be protected from their own stupidity and/or gregariousness as anything that they allow to be exposed will spread around the hockeysphere faster than the Ebola virus.

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