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Professional athletes often joke about how fast insider information travels within the sports media world. Fans can learn of a trade hours before the player even has an inkling they’ll soon be leaving town. The Internet has accelerated the process of information sharing exponentially, but it wasn’t really until the advent of Twitter that an application provided the type of online experience that was at once simple, instantaneous, virtually uncensored and, most importantly, wildly successful.

Sure, athletes, managers, hosts and pundits all had their websites and their blogs before but those things required both a concentrated effort and a certain leap of faith that interested readers would navigate to a space that was theirs and theirs alone. Twitter not only assures the individual exactly how many potential readers will get the message, it sets the bar extremely low for required effort. Anyone who can’t edit their thoughts down to 140 characters or less is not welcome.

Today, nearly four years since Twitter launched, it is an absolute rarity that relevant sports news isn’t first broken in a “tweet.” If you’re looking for an inside track on a team’s starting lineup or the most up to date news on trades, rumours and injuries, following the right people on Twitter will get you that information almost instantaneously.

Most sports hosts, reporters and commentators, for example, have Twitter accounts of their own and often post information as soon as it becomes available. Sometimes staff writers hired by specific teams will even post the results of the day’s practices, including line combinations and game starters — info that could be of much importance to those involved in heavy duty fantasy pools.

And while Twitter has provided sports fans with almost direct access to the sports news world, it has also created a filter-free platform that professional athletes have latched onto like no other. Fans of the NBA’s Miami Heat, for example, can follow all three of Miami’s super friends in Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they comment on any number of topics, relevant or irrelevant to the game of basketball.

To some degree, though, athletes and media figures are now receiving more and more pressure to maintain a level of restraint and common sense when operating a public Twitter account. Many franchises have become paranoid to the point of Ludditism because of careless tweets made from within their organization.

In 2009, the San Diego Chargers fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for tweeting about how much he disliked the food provided by the team at training camp.

“Man we have 2 have the most nasty food of any team. Damn can we upgrade 4 str8 years the same ish maybe that’s y we can’t [get] the SB we need,” Cromartie posted.

Earlier this year, Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony was also embroiled in a Twitter controversy when a $5,000 reward was posted on the small forward’s account for anyone who could produce video footage of a certain Internet socialite getting slapped in the face. After having filed a police report on the matter, Anthony claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked during the period of inflammatory remarks.

Cleary there are some that must be reminded not to treat this new platform as if it’s an anonymous chat room or a text between friends. In some cases athletes have even gone so far as to post candid opinions about their ongoing legal battles — not the smartest thing to commit to the public sphere but, again, these are the growing pains of a system without filter.

From here, it is still difficult to determine just how much Twitter will continue to impact the sports world. There’s really no reason to believe certain professional athletes will stop getting in hot water over statements made online, but surely the overall trend will decline as more and more organizations become more media savvy in the coming years. Rather than stop players from tweeting, we may actually see teams or even player associations assign a tweet editing task force. Eventually the PR folk who are paid to oversee public statements will realize that they, too, should make sure everything their client says on Twitter is on the level.

If more and more people begin to err on the side of caution, the future of Twitter, especially in the realm of sports, may end of looking like a fancy, convenient RSS feed. This, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to log onto my Twitter account so I can read the live updates of the football game. Technology!

Follow @manitobansports on Twitter for news updates and articles from the Sports section of the Manitoban.