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Janine Talley: Social media requires tremendous restraint – or a quick wit

I cannot fathom having endured four Super Bowl losses with access to social media. As kind as I presume the tweets and Facebook messages to Darryl and me would have been after the AFC Championship Game wins, I imagine many of the tweets and messages to us immediately following the Super Bowl losses wouldn’t have been so chirpy.

I often wonder how my 20-something self would have reacted to the constant harassment offered up by some fans on social media. Would I have kept my dignity and filtered my thoughts or would I have fired off snarky counterblows? Honestly, I probably would’ve resided in the middle.

A professional athlete’s wife is her husband’s biggest fan. No one but a wife knows the absolute dedication it takes for him to get up every day and do what he does. No one else is privy to his self-doubt or pain or vulnerability. It’s mystifying that people who display superhuman skills are expected to be at all times … superhuman. It doesn’t work that way. As a husband’s ardent supporter and confidant, it’s difficult to see him condemned by strangers and not react. When we do, we sometimes compromise our self-respect.

Most wives are followed on social media for a glimpse into a player’s personal life; the source for family photos and injury updates. At times, the engagement can go awry.

Following the ejection of Stephen Curry during Game Six of the 2016 NBA Finals for throwing his mouthpiece, his wife, Ayesha, took to Twitter to express her feelings on the matter. In a knee-jerk reaction that she later described as “in the heat of the moment,” Ayesha alluded to the game being “rigged.” She quickly deleted the tweet and explained her impulsive comment in a series of follow-up tweets.

The repercussions of Ayesha removing her filter were swift. She was beset with feedback from social media; most comments critical, many obscene. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith spoke out about the incident, advising Curry to keep her mouth shut and not bring attention to herself. How generous of him to offer unsolicited counsel. Mr. Smith must have thought attention-grabbing was exclusive to himself and feared that exclusivity endangered.

Miko Grimes, wife of Tampa Bay Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes, finds herself embroiled in social media kerfuffles regularly. Her combustible Twitter remarks during her husband’s time with the Miami Dolphins are thought to have played a role in his release. Dolphins Chairman Stephen Ross told the Palm Beach Post, “I thought it was best that the Dolphins move on from Brent and Miko.” While the Dolphins have done just that, Miko’s not budging on her stance with the club. Her Twitter thread regarding the Dolphins reads like a manifesto.

If one feels her husband has been wronged, what better way to find commiseration than to state one’s feelings to the populace? Twitter and Facebook have become the go-to in search of people who will validate our opinions, but in doing so we run the risk that not everyone shares our sentiment. How we handle those differences of opinion is where our character is tested. Be that as it may, where does a wife’s obligation to her husband end and her obligation to his team begin? Do we have our own identity, or are we merely an extension of our husbands? To what end is a team willing to disregard a spouse’s social-media antics when her fuse is lit?

I think a lot has to do with her husband’s view from the team’s totem pole. The more panoramic his vantage point, the more likely a club will absorb the wife’s shenanigans. Another factor is whether she’s the instigator or the defender. It’s easy to decipher: read her timeline. If she’s usually congenial, give her a pass. If her posts are one combative expletive after the next, she could brew into an unpleasant appearance not only for the organization but for herself.

Resisting unsavory social media engagement can try one’s restraint. I censor what I say. I’ve redacted many tweets. It’s a simple matter of obligation to one’s self-respect and how much one is willing to compromise that self-respect. I’m not perfect, I’ve sent tweets I regret. It’s easy to fall down the social-media rabbit hole.

While social media has been very kind to me, I do get the occasional tweet from a disgruntled fan, their avatar Ted Kaczynski or Beavis and Butt-head, who lost money on the Bills during their Super Bowl runs. When that occurs, I’m forced to summon my last thimbleful of dignity to not tweet back, “I didn’t tell you to bet your paycheck.” Regrettably, there have been times when common sense didn’t prevail and I hit “send.” Trust me, it’s futile to get into a Twitter feud with someone whose avatar is the Unabomber.

One of my all-time favorite Twitter exchanges was between Patti Thomas, wife of Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, and a person harassing her about the infamous misplaced helmet during the opening of Super Bowl XXVI. She won Twitter with this response: “Thurman stopped worrying about his lost helmet when he found his gold jacket.” Genius. I give her credit for finding a way to preserve her pride while getting her point across.

The paradox of how much a wife owes her husband’s team versus how much she owes herself and her husband is a question that can be answered only by our conscience. By default, we enter into a murky area where, welcome or not, we do become an extension of our husband’s celebrity. Yes, we are entitled to our opinion, but we must understand that entitlement may come with consequences.

Janine Talley writes a monthly column for The Buffalo News.

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