It’s been hailed as a source for social change and font of vital breaking news.
But let’s not forget Twitter’s most prominent purpose: giving athletes a forum to say things they’ll regret.
As the latest case in point, consider Lee Westwood, who, hours after falling short at the season’s final major, slipped into a social-media spiral that was not the proudest moment of his career.
Responding to “the haters” who had criticized him for his closing round 76 at the PGA Championship (a six-over showing that dropped him from distant contention into a tie for 33rd) Westood logged online and let fly with a flurry of expletive-spiced taunts and retorts.
To those who questioned his commitment, Westwood offered: “Like I give a f---k what the haters say! That’s life! Some people will always be just a little bit better and work just a little bit harder.”
To a tweeter who claimed he deserved all the heat, Westwood wrote: “I tried all the way. And you’re a tw@t.!”
To another who suggested he was too thin-skinned, Westood replied that he wasn’t fond of criticism from “unachieiving (sic) low life’s.”
He added, for good measure: “Come on you girly boy trolls! I’ve only won two million on the course this year. Need to keep me entertained a bit longer than this.”
In his tweets, Westwood noted that his ire was not aimed at “my decent human being followers of course. Just the p-*** that should be locked up by the twitter police.”
He also acknowledged that he’d been drinking.
“In wine there is truth,” the ancient Greeks said.
But in the Twittersphere, getting to the truth requires a bit of parsing.
Here’s one good rule of thumb: when an athlete takes great pains to dismiss his critics, claiming that he doesn’t care what they think, it’s a sure indication that he cares.
And you can’t blame Westwood for feeling stung.
At 40, he’s emerged as a mostly sympathetic figure, often burdened with a weighty title (the Best Player to Never Win a Major) and no doubt scarred by his experiences in the tournaments that matter most. He contended in all four of majors this year, and has carded 8 top-three finishes in majors during his career.
Any armchair Freud can read between the lines of Westwood’s angry tweets and see them as a sign of the frustration he feels toward himself. The “two million” he bragged of winning buys a lot of things, but it clearly hasn’t cured all of Westwood’s pains.
On Monday morning, having slept it off, Westwood took to Twitter again, this time to apologize to his sponsors and “true followers” for his boozy rant.
“It was out of order and out of character, Westy.”
Which leads us to Twitter’s other purpose: as medium for sober morning-after reflection.
If he’s really thinking clearly, Westwood may even come to this conclusion: forgo Twitter in favor of more range time. Or a session with a shrink. Or a vacation in Aruba. Something, anything, that might be productive. Fighting online squabbles isn’t going to help him win the battle within. (Photos: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)