NFL leaves room to tweet around games

We knew it was coming, and now it's here: the NFL released its game-day Twitter policy on Monday. To the league's credit, it's nothing too overbearing or out of touch. It simply strikes an appropriate balance between work and play.

"League policy allows for the use of social media or networking sites (including Twitter and Facebook) by players, coaches and football operations personnel up to 90 minutes before kickoff and after the game following media interviews," the policy reads.

So players are allowed to do as much updating as they'd like up to 90 minutes before the game. Once players, coaches and personnel are within that 90-minute window -- which is when prep time and pregame warmups begin -- cell phones go away. It's all business then.

After the game, once their media obligations are complete -- and not 90 minutes after the game, as some have misinterpreted the policy -- they can get after it as much as they like.

"There'll be plenty of time to tweet well before and after the game," said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman. "We're in essence asking our players, coaches and football operations personnel to focus on the game. Tweet before. Tweet after."

"[It] insures both the integrity of the game and that all participants are focused on the task at hand."

Unlike Women's Professional Soccer, which tested in-game tweeting in its inaugural season this year, the NFL doesn't need players doing it for the league to gain more exposure. It's certainly popular enough on its own.

And unlike the Tennis Integrity Unit, which has warned players participating in the U.S. Open about how anything they put on Twitter could potentially violate the sport's anti-corruption rules on "the passing of inside information," the NFL's rule is more about eliminating distraction than anything else.

Some have argued it's less about distraction and more about restricting players, which in turn serves traditional media and the NFL. Any pregame and in-game injury updates or little tidbits will be reported by traditional outlets, not from a player. And after the game, traditional media get first crack at quotes. This protects their interests. Also, the NFL gets news reported on its television networks in and around game time, which is good business for the league. Twitter is about connecting with fans, and this limits players' ability to do that; it limits their voices.

There's certainly a case to be made for all this.

Yet, I think the balance here is more than fair. The NFL isn't outright banning social media, it's letting players do it on their own time without going against the integrity of the game. And aren't we OK with seasoned reporters doing their job and doing it well? Aren't we OK with the league protecting its interests and giving players plenty of time to tweet before and after the game?

For as many fans who would like to see Chad Ochocinco tweet after a touchdown -- Ochocinco's latest idea in which he'd have a fan tweet for him in the stands acting as a surrogate on his account is also banned by the policy -- countless more don't want his narcissism on Twitter to happen during the game. Leave that for his own time.

McCarthy said this is what fans asked for: They want to see players play when it's game time, not thumbing away on their BlackBerrys when they step onto the field.

Social media has opened up plenty of doors for players to connect with their fanbase, for them to say what they want on their own terms and in their own words.

The NFL is allowing them to do just that, so long as it's not to the detriment of the integrity of the game.

Ryan Corazza is a free-lance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.