More should heed Wallace's advice
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kenny Wallace, in his own words, is a bit crazy. He also is outspoken, relishing the spotlight whether it's behind the wheel as a driver or behind the microphone as a television analyst.
Kasey Kahne is quiet to the point of being shy. At times he seems almost embarrassed by the spotlight.
So who is in hot water for something he wrote on Twitter?
If you guessed Wallace, try again.
Kahne recently started a social media uproar when he tweeted his disgust with seeing a woman publicly breastfeeding in a supermarket. He didn't do himself any favors by adding the hashtag #nasty and then referring to one person who remarked on his tweet as a "dumb b----."
Perhaps Kahne should adopt Wallace's policy on tweeting as his New Year's resolution. Perhaps all athletes should.
It's simple. Wallace doesn't tweet without reading what he's written with his 140 characters at least three times. If there's any doubt as to whether it will be offensive to anyone, he deletes.
The delete button can be beautiful thing.
It has helped athletes in all sports become more connected with those who pay big bucks to watch them perform. Some have gone so far as to use it to break news. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor used it to apologize for his play against the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow in Sunday's AFC wild-card game after not talking to reporters after the game.
But there are pitfalls. Colleges have suspended athletes for inappropriate remarks on Twitter. Professional athletes, from NASCAR to the NFL, have been fined for comments that were considered either detrimental to their team or their sport.
The NFL and NBA went so far as to adopt policies that don't allow players to tweet immediately before, during or immediately after a game.
If everyone adopted Wallace's policy and read three times before tweeting, perhaps policies wouldn't be needed and athletes wouldn't stick their foot in their mouth, as Twitter has made it easier than ever to do.
"We have all been bitten by Twitter," Wallace says.
Ah, the bite. That's what prompted Wallace to start reading his tweets in triplicate before posting. Two years ago, he climbed out of his Nationwide Series car at Richmond and wrote that the new car was costing owners a lot of money.
That earned him a visit to the NASCAR hauler, where series director Joe Balash sternly reminded him that's not the right way to support the series that puts food on his table.
Wallace got off light.
In 2010, Denny Hamlin was fined by NASCAR for questioning series officials on Twitter for late phantom debris cautions at the June Michigan race. He wrote:
"Truthfully I don't think It matters to the fans who wins the race as long as it's a good 'show.' Even if it comes at the expense of competition.
"AND. fyi that debris caution caused over 500k in damage to 10 wrecked racecars at the end of that race. no big deal huh?"
It was to NASCAR, and as we all know it has the last say.
"I always say what I think," Wallace says. "It's my damn Twitter account, so don't tell me what I can and can't say. But I have learned that if you're involved with an organization like I am with NASCAR you want to make sure you support the series."
Brad Keselowski, who has used Twitter as well as any NASCAR driver, simply uses common sense.
"I have a pretty good understanding of what is acceptable and what isn't when it comes to posting something on social media," he says. "At the end of the day, the main thing I try to do is remain true to myself.
"I try not to be too controversial, but there are controversial things that happen every day and I have my opinions on certain things. Hell, that's what social media is all about."
He's right. The key here, Keselowski says, is to select the topics on which he voices his opinions, noting that "social media may not be the best platform for expressing them, at least initially."
But like Wallace and most, Keselowski has been bitten.
"I've said some things on Twitter that I've apologized for because it just wasn't the right venue to do so," he says. "[But] the pros outweigh the cons for me, even if I may get a small reprimand here and there.
"I gain much more credibility with my fans by being myself, within reason, than I would if I had to worry about toeing a certain line all the time."
Kahne didn't say anything detrimental about NASCAR with his recent public relations fiasco, but his comments were detrimental to women and women's groups that support breastfeeding. He was bitten hard.
In case you missed it, here's what Kahne wrote:
"Just walking through supermarket. See a mom breast feeding little kid. Took second look because I obviously was seeing things. I wasn't."
He then added after the #nasty hashtag, "I don't feel like shopping anymore or eating."
Kahne was unavailable for comment here. He's still letting the backlash die down.
When you think about it, Kahne didn't say anything that many others haven't thought. He just made the mistake of sharing those thoughts with his more than 100,000 followers.
But if you want to hear those thoughts, don't complain. You can't have it both ways.
Wallace will defend Kahne's right to say what he did. He says it was "ridiculous" that the new Hendrick Motorsports driver had to publicly apologize.
But when you are a public figure like Kahne and other athletes and you offend a large portion of the public, an apology often is the only way out of it.
It's happened with athletes, sportscasters and sportswriters alike.
The beauty of Twitter is it allows us to share your every thought. Look at all the conversation Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate sparked last year when he suggested Johnson -- and NASCAR drivers in general -- wasn't an athlete when the five-time champion was nominated for the ESPY for male athlete of the year.
"Social media has helped NASCAR create a more direct one-on-one relationship with our fans and has provided more instant feedback regarding fans likes and dislikes," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations and a big Twitter user. "On a personal note, the fan interaction I have had throughout 2011 has been invaluable on Twitter, obtaining feedback, explaining our positions and most importantly, listening to the fans."
The peril of Twitter is that not all of our thoughts should be shared.
Kahne knows that now. Hopefully, he doesn't cut back on sharing as Hamlin and other athletes have after being bitten. It's good for fans to have an avenue to connect with their heroes, to see the side of them out of the car or away from the playing field.
"Twitter provides true, one-on-one interaction with the fans that they can get away from the racetrack," Keselowski says.
Just use common sense. Wallace, beyond reading three times first, suggests doing more responding than coming up with original thoughts.
"If somebody says what is wrong with Dale Jr. and I give my opinion, nobody has any right to be mad at me. It's game on," he says. "But if I just say it out of the clear blue then you can be mad at me all you want.
"Listen, there will be another time that I get bit. But I truly try to say what I think."
The key is he thinks before he says it.
Good advice from one who is a bit crazy.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.
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