The recent FA charge given to Ryan Bennett, for breach of FA rule E3 should act as a warning to all other professional footballers – your social media behaviour is judged against a higher bar than that of the general public.
Ryan Bennett’s example, i.e. being punished for using threatening/improper words on Twitter shows that a footballer’s social media behaviour is under the FA’s magnifying spotlight.
Ryan Bennett was involved in a heated exchange with fans, which resulted in him saying that he ‘would finish’someone. Although this tweet was promptly deleted, the FA picked up on it and he was found guilty of breaching rule E3 and subsequently fined. In his understandable frustration he deleted his Twitter account, saying “Officially going to delete twitter! Seems you can’t say what you want on here, public can say why [what] they want bit [but] seems I can’t reply!\ Ryan Bennett sounds as though he feels that he is robbed of his right to reply/ his freedom of expression, because of the fact that he is a professional footballer. The words he used were not expressly threatening, were promptly deleted, and therefore his frustration at being singled out is understandable.
The FA rules state that prompt deletion of the comments, are advisable but will not protect the player from disciplinary action, so he might as well have left the comment online, for all and sundry to see, as taking it off did not help him. Had he deleted the comment before the FA’s magnifying glass saw it, then he may well have got away with it, or at least had a better chance of arguing a more powerful form of mitigation which may have got him off his charge – but this is hindsight to the ‘nth’ degree.
The Ryan Bennett example shows that professional footballers must be extra careful about what they say online and in what context. My general advice, if in doubt don’t post it, if you wouldn’t say it to a fan on the terraces – don’t say it – and if you want to give your opinion on something controversial, ask your club’s social media officer’s advice or give us a call. A small step of this kind can save you a fine, disciplinary action, and may even help you keep your Twitter account.
Head of Media, Internet and Sports Law @ Pinder Reaux.