#Touchdown: Jets Embrace Twitter

Team bucks NFL trend of clamping down on service

Kerry Rhodes logs on to Twitter nearly everyday and tweets about pretty much anything his 12,422 followers - and counting - bring up.

That includes the New England Patriots fan who taunts the New York Jets safety every chance he gets.

"It's a lot of fun and I actually respond to random people," Rhodes said recently during training camp. "I've got this Jets heckler who keeps tweeting me and cussing me out every night. There's some hostility on there, too, but it's all good."

While some teams, including the Miami Dolphins, have banned their players from using the social-networking site, the Jets have openly embraced Twitter.

"I like it because I enjoy the banter," Jets kicker Jay Feely said. "It surprises me when you get things back that are hateful, things like, 'I hope you die,' or 'I hope you get cancer,' but I like being able to interact and share your beliefs and feelings and say it the way in which you want, without going through an intermediary."

The NFL encourages tweeting, and the Jets might lead the league with at least 11 players on Twitter, including rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Even owner Woody Johnson will send an occasional tweet, such as announcing the team was drafting Sanchez moments before it became official.

"We really made a conscious decision that we were going to embrace social networking because it's an outgrowth of our motto that we talk about internally: Remove the barriers," said Matt Higgins, the Jets' executive vice president of business operations. "Football, more than other sports, probably has more barriers that you have to overcome. With the helmet, you don't really get to see players' faces or expressions. Twitter enables you to communicate with players directly, one-on-one."

Higgins approached Rhodes and a few others a year ago about becoming involved with Twitter. They set up accounts and let the players have fun - while sticking to some house rules, of course.

"Never say anything you're not comfortable with being on the front page of a newspaper," Higgins said. "And don't say anything that's going to reveal competitive secrets or compromise your competitive advantage. Beyond that, to be honest, we don't see it as a risk."

The Jets have even hired someone responsible for assisting players with social networking.

"We now have more than 80,000 people following our various players and our organization," Higgins said. "That means that at any given moment, we can reach 80,000 fans directly, rather than having to get a newspaper story to get a message out. I just don't see how you don't embrace such a powerful tool."

Sanchez was leading the Jets with 40,244 followers, followed by Rhodes, center Nick Mangold (6,548), tight end Dustin Keller (5,292) and Feely (5,127).

"It's a good way of not being mean to a fan where you're not able to stop and give them an autograph," Rhodes said, "but you can go online and see what's going on."

Higgins said the timing simply worked out for the Jets, whose new coach, Rex Ryan, is all for his players speaking their minds.

"He's the type of guy who says, 'Say what you're feeling, but make sure you back it up on the field,'" Keller said. "That kind of goes hand-in-hand with the Twitter thing. You have to be smart and it gives us an even better opportunity to get closer to fans."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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