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Lessons learned from Lamont Twitter row

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John Beattie | 16:23 UK time, Friday, 13 January 2012

I applaud Rory Lamont for the apology he has given for comments made on Twitter about US president Barack Obama and reckon every rugby player has now learned a lesson.

The trouble is in a world where more and more sportsmen and women are media-trained to be as bland as possible, I want my heroes to say things.

And the truth is that sometimes you can't actually say what you think - especially if the language is too strong.

Nowadays sports stars say these things on Twitter, which is a system of electronic public message boards.

Tweeters write a thought or a message, or capture someone else's, and put it up for the world to see.

Tweeters principally see messages scribbled by those they elect to "follow" and the reverse is true but, in general, any tweeter can look for the tweets of another member.

So, if a 12-year-old girl rugby fan "follows" you or even searches for your tweets she reads what you say.

Rory Lamont's controversial posts have sparked further debate about Twitter

Rory Lamont has apologised for any offence his Twitter comments may have caused

And that's Rory's trouble. Brian O'Driscoll, now with 131,000 followers wanting to read his tweets, was the world's most followed rugby player prior to the World Cup.

Rory is followed by more than 2,000 people but they, and anyone else who searched for his tweets, saw language he acknowledges was inappropriate.

There is a bigger picture here though.

The fastest advance in the relationship between players and fans has been through their ability to communicate directly with each other on new media platforms, crucially, away from the prying eyes of the PR departments of the various rugby unions.

All rugby fans, actually, want to know what Rory Lamont and other players just like him are up to and, to some extent, what they think.

Maybe you don't, but I do. And every day on Twitter I see Scottish rugby players messaging back to fans who are asking them questions, or helping charities who want profile, or just having a laugh with fans who, just two years ago, would not have been able to talk directly to them in any way whatsoever.

Let me take you back just under 10 years; the day rugby became professional the players involved in the game began to say less about life away from the pitch.

"It's going to be a very tough game" was soon heard; as was "the only pressure involved is the pressure we are putting on ourselves".

Other common phrases included: "We aren't thinking about what they are going to do just about our own game," "it's the performance that counts not the result" and
"we want the fans to get behind us".

There was a long list of other comments that had been agreed as being ready to trot out for the public.

They started saying in public, frankly, what they were allowed to say, or told to say.

Twitter, thankfully, changed all that.

The trouble with Twitter, though, is that it's broadcasting.

Words said on Twitter are more dangerous than those written in newspapers which, of course, can be soaked in salt and vinegar within a day.

Unless the tweeter deletes his or her comments they remain, on an internet page, for all to see.

I always think there are two levels to any discussion: there's the conversation you can have with a friend or a colleague on the understanding that it goes no further, and there's the edited version you can say on air or in a newspaper column.

Whether we like it or not the words we say in public have to be selected carefully.

You can only tweet what you'd be happy to broadcast. You see, I know, I've made a few errors.

Twitter inhabits a blurred line between what you would say on air, and, troublingly, what you would say in a pub.

But just to finish on this point: Twitter is a good thing for rugby.

Please let this be a little line in the sand. I really hope that the governing bodies don't clamp down and prevent modern players using modern media mechanisms to communicate with an increasingly young and media savvy modern rugby fan base.

What do you think?


  • Comment number 1.

    I agree John I think it is very good that we can communicate with our "rugby heroes" but to be honest does Rory really need to say things like that? Its great that we can communicate but why go and say stupid things like that. Keep it behind closed doors!

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree with what you're saying about communications between sports players and fans. No brainer. But RL's tweets indicate no brain. He's a big boy now and should know better.

  • Comment number 3.

    Never understood the need for anyone to tell the rest of us what they are up to, even if they are a pretty good rugby player (albeit in a dire side like Scotland). Just think how good the human race would be and what it could achieve if it did more instead of talking about it!
    Perhaps that's the problem with the scottish team-too much yakka off the pitch and not enough on it.
    Tweets, or what ever they are, are for the immature of brain and the wasters of time. Grow up Rory, bin your "friends", and get back to the real-life experience of hard training and perhaps then you and your team mates will get the results that we Scottish fans crave.

  • Comment number 4.

    Have to agree with hawkeyethejock!

    It's good to get an insight into what sport stars are up to in their training, and what sort of preperation goes on behind the scene of Rugby (or sport in general), but that is where it should stop.

    I for one don't want to know the ins and outs of their personal lives, or anyone else's for that matter. So I don't use twitter. I think it is silly and pointless, and it gives an unnecessary plantform for stupidity. The exploits of Fuimaono-Sapolu highlight this clearly.
    Yes sports palyers are grown ups and should act that way, but they too still need time to relax and vent, Twitter gives them that space in completely the wrong way.

  • Comment number 5.

    Those commenting above that players/anyone would be better off using their time more constructively than for tweeting have a point, but given that Lamont was condemned not for using Twitter but for what constitutes appropriate use:

    1. Lamont's political views were not obscene, merely a bit too out-there for the SRU / Glasgow - ie. were political in the first place. The moral: censor yourself, therefore admit anything you say is a lie, keep the mob in their collective slumber and grow the brand. Offend no one, interest no one. Depressing.

    2. A rugby player joins Twitter for similar reasons as anyone else, assuming (because not all do) he/she actually handles the account him/herself, in which case expect some flavour. They are not doing it for the kids; that comes as a by-product, sometimes embraced by them but often projected by others, including to excuse lazy journalists sitting on Twitter all day.

    3. Lamont clearly was not sorry - see his wording; it was under protest and mildly sarcastic - and nor should he be. He said, effectively, sorry for having an opinion, and having that forced on him is what created this trumped-up story some time after the actual tweets, which did not cause uproar. John: you got what you wished for.

    4. The BBC risks occupying whatever level the critical voices in this debate say Twitter offenders are on. Please get offline and find some real stories. A medium is eating itself.

  • Comment number 6.

    @ 5

    I'm not sure how you can say that calling a person a Wh**e is not obscene?! The language he ised is completely uncalled for. He has every right to have an opinion but as a sportsman in the public eye he has a responsibility to try and behave in the correct manner.

    surely at some point, while writing these tweets, he must have thought "i'm not sure i've worded this in the best way" but he still continued to publish them.

    i agree he is not sorry for what he said though. Although I think that shows the character of the man when he cannot even admit that the terms he used were unneccessary. He could quite easily have worded them strongly without being obscene or offensive.

  • Comment number 7.

    If he'd said it about George Bush no-one would have batted an eyelid.

    The point about using the word "whore" is completely immaterial. People use that word all the time and a rugby player using it on Twitter would never prompt a reaction other than if he used it to describe some kind of politically-sensitive target.

    It's just because the US president is black that people feel that he needs extra protection and that he shouldn't be criticised strongly by white people.

    It's pathetic, the guy's president of the USA! But he still needs our patronage apparently! Embarrassing.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bravo #7, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I have called Gaddafi far worse than 'Wh**e' over the last 12 months, and not even raised an eyebrow. I think it's less about the word, and more about who it was said about, and that's pretty sad.

    Rory Lamont has an opinion. I don't share it, but it's clear from his other tweets that he has formed his opinion through careful consideration, rather than what is fashionable (clearly, given this storm!). He should be applauded for that.

    Yes, sportsmen have a responsibility to set a good example but, I would argue, the very best example a role-model can set is to be politically engaged.

    If a kid reads Lamont's tweet and thinks it's OK to say 'wh**e', I don't care.
    If a kid reads Lamont's tweet and becomes interested in politics, I'll be happy.

  • Comment number 9.

    @ 8

    so you think it is ok for kids to be taught the word "Whor*"? are you serious? Surely we should be teaching them to be far more eloquent in the words they use?

    Maybe you think it is ok for all the kids to end up in a Jeremy Kyle-like state. I personally would rather see them being taught the correct expressions.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is such a non-story it's embarassing. The reporter that 'broke' the story should really have a long hard look at herself - if this is what she thinks constitutes news then hand over the notepad now and go get a job flipping burgers. What really p's me off is that Glasgow have a really important game on Sunday and Rory is a key part of the team and this can only upset his focus on the game an therefore potentially effect his performance. The comments were made last week yet the reporter waited until now to break the story - and then trawls back through his entire twitter history to find anything else remotely contoversial - what is she playing at?? John, I know she's a colleague but you really need to have a word as this is not the sort of tabloid journalism that we expect from beeb. Everyone at bbc scotland should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for giving this any airtime. There were quite a number out tonight watching the rugby and the feeling amongst those I spoke to is that the only people to have let themselves down here are the reporter and the bbc.

  • Comment number 12.

    Today should be a good news day for Scottish rugby. Edinburgh win in Paris was huge. And with Glasgow having a very good chance of an Amlin spot it seems we'll have both teams in the knock-out stages of European competition. Add to that attendances are on the up, there's money available to help or bring back quality players and feel good factor is high.

    But what Scottish rugby story is making the news across the UK and around the world? One a BBC Scotland editorial meeting dredged up from half a dozen old tweets which offended nobody at the time they were posted. This story would be pitiful if it occupied two inches at the bottom of some column in the Daily Record. To see it come from a team that involves you John, and see it be promoted by BBC Scotland with such intensity - TV, 2 radio programmes, 2 online pieces - it's massively disappointing. It's irrelevant, unnecessary, unhelpful and trivial. You should be ashamed of yourselves and you owe Rory an apology for dragging him into this nonsense just so you guys can get a bit of editorial on the perils of social media.

  • Comment number 13.

    Totally agree John. The edited version of what sportsmen will say to camera before or after a game is generally dull and uninsightful. Having a bit more access to players is great for most fans and it would be dangerous if players reverted to only trotting out the same key phrases.

  • Comment number 14.

    Oh dear.

    Totally agree with post 11.

    This should not even come close to being news. Pathetic.

    Well done Edinburgh - fantastic result. Come on Glasgow tomorrow.

  • Comment number 15.

    [hawr; often hoor]
    - noun 1. prostitute

    As far as I'm aware this is a word that is used in the bible and wouldn't be immediately considered obscene in general conversation. It is obviously however disparaging.

    Is the objection political? That is that Barack obama stands accused of selling his principles to wall st rather than the average American? Well I never, what a terrible thing to suggest. I'm sure that's untrue I mean it's not like wall street crashed the u.s economy and then received free money from the current administration all the while paying themselves massive bonuses. About which Obama did what? Sound a bit peeved?

    Twitter will be sterilised in the same way post match interviews have been if the thought police get their way. If I want to hear what's sports people think I actually want to know what they think. Not what is deemed acceptable by the body politic.

    People aren't forced to read twitter feeds and certainly aren't forced to be offended. As for the "think of the children" nonsense. Perhaps they shouldn't be exposed to a medium where as the Suarez / evra affair showed there is no content control my the site itself?

  • Comment number 16.

    #3 "Tweets, or what ever they are, are for the immature of brain and the wasters of time"
    Pot, Kettle, Black?

    As others have said, a complete non story.

  • Comment number 17.

    It is very difficult to put one's meaning over in 165 characters. Just like the BBC control the length of these posts. Meaning and subtlety can be lost entirely. On the other hand, there are many inarticulate people who are good at what they do in their sport. As we well know from the many cliches used by pundits. Maybe Lamont should simply refrain from Facebook and Twitter and stay silent.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think it's a bit sad that rugby players (or any one individual) feel the need to use Twitter. From what I've seen of the rugby players comments its all drivel and they are desperate for followers to boost their ego's. There's something strange about why these guys need people to follow them and tell them how great they are. Its all a bit childish really, a bit pathetic.

  • Comment number 19.

    Could you please keep Stuart Cosgrove off Sport Nation, his comment's on rugby were very disturbing. He should stick to his own area of sporting knowledge; a sport where the players can bearly string a coherent sentence together, a game in which owners, managers, clubs, players would do ANYTHING for money. On the day after one of Scotland's rugby clubs went a long way to qualifying for the next round of "The rugby club competition", you would have thought Radio Scotland could have found a studio punter with a little rugby knowledge.

  • Comment number 20.

    Twitter is a very useful source of information for business and is not simply some infantile gossip vehicle. The condemnation of those who do use it by those who never have is therefore founded in ignorance, something that is too often indulged. That is certainly the case here, where Lamont appears not have considered why he might be followed on Twitter, but his comment is not so wildly outrageous that it warrants the attention it is receiving. If more people were inclined to allow their thoughts to be provoked rather than seek something to claim outrage over, we would all get along considerably better.

  • Comment number 21.

    @7 Actually if it had been said about George W Bush you would've had the Murdoch media kicking off about it. They were highly critical of anyone who remotely said anything negative about Bush or his administration when he was in office. Even innocent jokes about Bush were attacked by the Sun and the NOTW. So I don't think colour has anything to do with it.

    I think you're looking for racial/Political correctness argument where there clearly isn't one. Its more a Democratic president gets insulted, Lefties get outraged. A Republican President gets insulted right wingers get outraged. Its party politics pure and simple. Leave colour out of this debate.

  • Comment number 22.

    As Lamont's comments. That's his opinion. But Freedom of speech is a two way street. Just Lamont is allowed to slate bankers, David Cameron and Obama, people are allowed to tell him that he's wrong and criticise his comments. That's healthy debate. I would remind Lamont (who's backing a Republican candidate) that the US banking industry was a mess before Obama got in and that was down to the previous administration and their friends on Wall Street. Maybe Lamont is unawa

  • Comment number 23.

    Maybe Lamont is unaware that Republicans have their fingers in more Wall Street pies that the "wh**e" Obama. Or he's just conveniently ignoring that fact.

  • Comment number 24.

    "Tweets, or what ever they are, are for the immature of brain "

    Perhaps you sir, should 'grow up' before making such a crass, sweeping generalisation.

    The fact of the matter is that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are part of everyday work and society; It's a useful marketing tool, whether you like it or not.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'll leave the Twitter debate to the grown ups!

    As for Lamont, he is an ambassador for his country and should act accordingly by his actions and in his words. I only hope that Mr Obama is never chosen to meet the teams at Murrayfield!

  • Comment number 26.

    @11 agree. It is sad that this is the level of journalism that the bbc has sunk to. Did the bbc recruit this journalist from the NOTW?

    Though I have posted elsewhere asking why a Scotsman is getting his knickers in regarding american politics and have been shot down fair enough. We all have our opinions.

    However, I only wish that people in Scotland would care more about politics in their own country than other countries.

    @23 totally agree. As if the Repbulicans are angels. Maybe Rory should exercise his brain reading about the Republicans than tweeting, then he may be more informed!!

  • Comment number 27.

    Here is a thought for you all from a great book by Alaister Moffat which i read recently in which he summed up the general state of human nature with this - Then there are the "Bread and Circuses", the social narcotics of religion, sex and television that maintain apathy and sculpt the psyche of a pliant, consumer populace. Might we add Twitter to that? A populace that want to moan, complain, winge, criticise at any thought or opinion that does not quite meet their social standards, which have already been dictated to them through the overweening eyes of overly scrutinised institutions.

    Good on you Rory for having an opinion, for thinking, for breaking the mold, for having an intelligent thought and for having the courage to use Twitter for something else than the drudge of everyones generally average lives.

    As for Twitter, if you want to use it to fill the world with your thoughts, fine, but have a look at yourselves before criticising.

  • Comment number 28.

    My reaction was one of pleasant surprise at a professional Rugby player being involved in global politics to the extent that he Tweets about it.

    That I totally agree with Rory’s sentiments is a bonus.

    Fact is that Obama and his White House is deeper into Wall Street than any of the Republicans that he accuses of cosiness with Wall Street. To the point where he is more than reluctant to prosecute the criminals who caused the world’s financial crisis by selling assets to clients that were, in fact, close to being worthless. Not only that, Obama has raised, to date, more money from Wall Street than any other politician, while posing as the great People’s President! ($800 million at last count)

    Go Rory! I'm with you!

  • Comment number 29.

    In all honesty does it really matter? Get a life, if somebody has an opinion why should they be attacked?

  • Comment number 30.

    John you're dead right that there's a bigger picture here. We're living through a cultural change in the way technology lets us ALL communicate. All such changes (arrival of telephone, then mobile phones, email, blogs, etc) create different expectations and understanding of how the tech is used by different groups of people. John - you work for a business which ultimately is under threat from the velocity and freedom of communications/information exchange enabled by technologies like Twitter/Facebook etc. So too are the PR depts in many organisations. (rhetorical question: If I can get direct communications to & from all players/clubs - what value does a newspaper add?)

    I agree with you about the benefits brought about by the acessibility but I don't agree with you that the "famous person" can then only use the medium to reflect what the PR or Organisation is comfortable with. What do you think John Lennon would have Tweeted if it had been available in the '60's? I know some lawyers who will happily say that if you use social media you can never say/post anything which could be considered to harm the reputation of your employer. But how does that square with freedom of speach and expression? The courts are beginning to look at this now, but there's no clear line.

    Rory Lamont seems to have well developed opinons and he seems open to discuss them and seek other opinions. It looks to me like he's using Twitter in the way many younger people do. So this "storm" might even be generational..... Maybe he used a particular short word to stay within the 140 characters?

    Go on Rory. Be yourself. Use the medium as you see fit. I come back to where I started- there's a cultural change happening and we don't yet all understand where it will take us. But communicating more openly and honestly ultimately must be good. Yes?

  • Comment number 31.

    Pot kettle - RL changes clubs regularly - what does that make him? A hooker? Looking at his recent points scoring record Twitter is one way of keeping fams interested cos his rugby aint. Maybe Obama will tweet what a useless winger Rory Lamont is!

  • Comment number 32.


    You assume that all sportsman (and probably most of the population who use these "networking" sites) have actually something interesting to say, or indeed the intelligence to say it. The reason why I read JB's blog on this site (my only two-way communication vice), is because I value his knowledge of the game of rugby, his down to earth phrasing and his humour.
    Rory may have "well developed opinions", but he seems to have under-developed manners. As I said before, when he is a player for Scotland, he is an ambassador for the nation and should act, speak and write accordingly. The time for him to say how he feels about the President is when he hangs his boots up, and by his recent performances that won't be long.
    It is so easy (and cowardly) to be rude to someone when they aren't in the same room.
    Rory has to do his talking on the pitch!

  • Comment number 33.

    Let people say what they want. The realisation of how stupid sports stars sound when they start to give political opinion should be enough to act as a deterrant. If not allow them to be blasted by the media.

    I would much prefer it that way than have nothing but the bland dross which they are programmed to recite.

  • Comment number 34.

    Any fans who listen to their sports heroes for political views should not be allowed to vote. They are athletes and enjoy the skills they have.


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