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Athletes link to their own 'Truth' on the Internet

Website pros say blogs can work well, if the players recognize the downside of an unfiltered medium.

August 06, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

The conflicting reports came from all media, often from Kobe Bryant himself. Was the Lakers star demanding a trade or wasn't he?

In order to set the record straight -- or perhaps to spin it in the most favorable light -- Bryant turned to using the "Truth" blog on his kb24.com personal website.

"I'm sure you guys have been hearing all this and that and are not sure what to think or believe," wrote Bryant, who updated the site frequently to discuss his mixed feelings about the Lakers during the fracas. "The Truth section was created for times such as these."

As the MySpace generation reaches professional sports, many athletes are maintaining website profiles and blogs. Along with providing a direct link to fans, these personalized Internet entries serve as an excuse to limit interviews with mainstream media while also offering the ability to deliver unfiltered messages.

Bryant used his site to acknowledge it would be tough to leave the Lakers -- but he would if it meant playing on a winning team. Other reports are purely personal. Tiger Woods announced the birth of his daughter. And Greg Oden discussed the pain of having his tonsils taken out.

"They come off good if the athletes know what they are doing," said Will Leitch, editor of deadspin.com, a website that often links to players' websites. "The mistake is when you see people that still have their college MySpace profile up and all of a sudden they are in the NFL or MLB."

Indeed, while posting messages is often intended to clear controversy, it occasionally causes it.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.D. Durbin apologized for crudely announcing his fondness for female body parts on his MySpace page. Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson did the same after posting a racially offensive photo on teammate Brandon McCarthy's page. And Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas drew the ire of NBA officials after blogging about $10 bets he made with fans during a game.

NBA officials fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for criticizing referees on his blog. And NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb was left defending his mother, Wilma, after she wrote that it was "bittersweet" to watch backup Jeff Garcia succeed in leading the Philadelphia Eagles while her son recuperated from an injury.

"There's a fine line between being candid and getting yourself in trouble, and it depends a lot on what your image is," said Nancy Baym, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. "There is a reason professionals usually handle that stuff."

C.J. Nitkowski, a former big league baseball player who now pitches professionally in Japan, was a pioneer among athlete bloggers. He started his website, Cjbaseball.com, a decade ago.

"The advantages are clearing up misquotes, controlling a story that may be important, and the chance to interact with fans directly," he said. "[But] also having complete unedited access to the world needs to be treated carefully. Speaking your mind is a nice freedom, but sometimes it's not always a good thing."

Arenas' marketing representative, Paisley Benaza, admits "concern" about her basketball-playing client -- who she says only recently learned what a blog was -- so eagerly awaiting each opportunity he has to post on his increasingly popular NBA.com blog.

The flip side: "I know he always wants to speak for himself and that's how it is," Benaza said. "We try not to filter it because that is what makes him Gilbert Arenas. He's an honest, genuine person that loves his fans."

Arenas, charismatic and engaging, draws readers across the world with his candid approach. He has written about dropping his baby girl -- "it was either both of us stumble down the stairs, or drop her. So I had to drop her. She's OK. She dropped on her butt first" -- and a no-holds-barred rant blasting Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski for dropping him from the U.S. national team.

"If I have the chance to go back to college, I'll give up one NBA season to play against Duke," Arenas wrote. "One college game, that's five fouls, right? 40-minute game at Duke[,] they got soft rims[,] I'd probably score 84 or 85.

"I wouldn't pass the ball. I wouldn't even think about passing it. It would be like a NBA Live or an NBA 2K7 game, you just shoot with one person."

Pat Neshek, a relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, used his blog to try to rally support that he hoped would land him in this year's Major League Baseball All-Star game.

An avid autograph collector, Neshek started his blog in 2004 to converse with other signature hounds, but there he was a few weeks ago, using the blog to plead his case to be the final American League player on the roster -- a choice made by fans in online voting. (He lost out to Boston's Hideki Okajima.)

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