NBA Players, Please Don't Fear YouTube

Vincent Thomas of SLAM writes about Chris Bosh's funny little YouTube commercial, pining for your All-Star vote.

Jim LaBumbard is the Toronto Raptors head of PR. He said Bosh made the video on Christmas Eve with his girlfriend, cousin and brother. The Raptors staff loves it, as they should.

But LaBumbard also confirmed that this video was posted on YouTube and Bosh's website without the organization having looked at it first.

That's a problem, fam. I hate to rain on this parade, but as innocent and essentially awesome as the Bosh video is, the larger issue is a problematic one.

The larger issue is the potential danger of YouTube. Give any rich young person some time on their hands and things can go awry. YouTube is the Wild West. And with the NBA, NFL, NCAA and MLB not setting forth any Best Practices when it comes to personal websites, blogs and user generated videos posted on viral websites, all of these leagues and their teams and players are at high risk to do or say something stupid that could spiral into a complete public relations catastrophe. ...

The NBA, as with all other sports entities, is a reactionary league. These leagues wait until things become a huge problem and then try to bring about solutions. They wait until it becomes a nasty mess and then try to clean it up. They let things fester, hoping it'll either go away or sanity and sound-decision making will reappear and rule the day.

It took doo-rags, white-Ts and sagging attendance to galvanize the NBA to getting serious about re-imaging itself, but by that time, it called for drastic measures like a league-wide dress code. It took a tossed beer and medieval Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson before the league thought about alcoholic beverage limits for fans, extra-security and clear language about on-court behavior. It took teams calling cocaine timeouts in the 70s for the league to get serious about it's drug policy. It took Glen Robinson signing a 10-year $68 million rookie contract before they instituted a "rookie cap."

Foresight is needed.

I'm not calling for a YouTube moratorium. More Bosh videos are a good thing. Gilbert Arenas' blog is a wonderful thing. But the league needs to be proactive and prescient and jump out ahead of this thing. Set some boundaries, articulate possible sanctions for ill behavior -- sorry, but police is needed here.

I think Thomas makes some good points -- the NBA should be forward-looking. I also think he wants what I want, which is for athletes to use internet video a lot, and responsibly.

But I hope the NBA doesn't step into this one at all, because the internet is not TV, and that's a good thing.

Let me explain. The truth of life on planet earth is and has always been that we are each of us funny, smily, happy and in some ways beautiful, but we are also each at times strange, moody, banal, and off-beat.

Since the rise of television, there has been a widespread myth that the second part of that last sentence is not true. Television and movies are unbelievably expensive to produce and transmit -- so we only transmit people at their absolute smiliest, snappiest, most on-key, and sexiest.

Marilyn Monroe in a slinky dress, singing to the President -- that's TV. Marilyn Monroe blowing her nose, or wondering where she left her crossword puzzle? For most of our lives that has not been TV. That's life.

The era of television got us hooked to the notion that things that happen on TV are newsworthy, simply because they are on TV. TV is where only the biggest and best things happen. If it's on TV, it's big-time, even if it's not big-time.

So, if your friend told you that Chris Bosh was pretending to be a used-car salesman, telling you to vote for him for the All-Star game, you'd probably think something along the lines of: "Huh. Neat." Just another thing another person said about something that you weren't there for, right?

But now if your friend tells you he videotaped it, then you might think "wow, cool, neato, let me see it" and some of you (Hello, Vincent Thomas) might even keep right on thinking until you get to "should Chris Bosh really be putting this on videotape?"

Here's the lesson though: the internet broadcast of home video is unbelievably cheap now. Some massive number of people -- hundreds of millions around the globe -- own all the technology necessary. Therefore, putting something on video, and putting it online is no longer a media event. It's a personal event, that has the potential to be viewable by millions (at the whim of the millions, not the broadcaster).

And in that regard, I'm not sure employers like NBA teams should be curtailing their employees' use of internet video. It would be like curtailing their ability to make a toast at a big wedding, or to karaoke. My point is, don't let the "video" part of "internet video" fool you. Home video is not high-octane. It's low-octane, more like a conversation than a spectacle.

In internet video, we are getting to see people without all the makeup, preparation, and lighting. We are getting to see them without the P.T. Barnum showmanship and slick editing. We get to see what a very small group deemed OK to share, not what a big group deemed OK. What we get to see on internet video these days is much more similar to actual boring old life than what we get on TV.

People aren't there yet, but I suspect what that means is we're headed to a place where the audience will become much tougher to offend. Chris Bosh made fun of a used car salesman on video? Neat-o. Some athlete made an amateurish rap video? What young rap lover wouldn't?

I'm telling you right now: some professional athletes are offensive to some people in various ways. As more of them put video online, that will probably become more and more evident. Such is life. Maybe if we stop hiding that reality, while having more and better ways to get to know what people are really like from afar, we can learn some things from each other.

The vast majority of YouTube video is not amazing. It's just kind of bric-a-brac. It's an out-of-focus cat meowing along with a piano. That mix of videos, I believe, should absolutely include athletes -- people who suffer from a lack of good, safe, time-efficient ways to express themselves to the many people who are interested in them -- being themselves. It's not always interesting, but it can be fun. (And if they screw up, they screw up. It will have its own lessons. Truly nice guys will surely be rewarded in the long run, however, which can't hurt.)

If athletes' various bosses -- the league, the team, the sponsors etc. -- were to be hanging over their shoulders, urging athletes to delete this or that line, or to re-shoot ... that would make it a lot more like TV. It would also make it a lot less like life, and a lot less fun.

UPDATE: Funny example of a top NBA star working, presumably, outside the bounds of normal brand management procedures.