Athletes Engage in Textual Relations

I’m not a very good texter. The @ sign? Predictive text? Its all Grk 2 me. So it was with bewilderment that I read about the LG National Texting Championships, which took place last weekend here in New York. In the finals Morgan Pozgar, 13, faced Eli Tirosh, a 21-year-old law student from Los Angeles. Tirosh typed out “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocios! Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious” faster than Pozgar, but she made an error. The teen walked away with the $25,000 prize. Texting is for kids.

Or maybe not. Regardless of whether we consider the texting championships a sporting event (let’s not), text messages creep into sports all the time. And not just among the fresh faces with Treos. Yesterday the NCAA banned the suddenly pervasive practice among coaches of texting their recruits. University of Illinois football coach Ron Zook, who turns 53 tomorrow (Hpy b-dy, Cch Zook! 🙂 ) reportedly sent out 95 million kilobytes of dangling textual carrots from his Blackberry during recruiting period.

What could he have said over and over in such abbreviated form? Luv 2gt 2knw U! After 15 years (my entire adult life really) I am just getting used to the rapid-fire, tone-less style of email, but at least email is unlimited. Now I have to parse text messages, which usually max out at 160 characters and can be zapped from pocket to purse to pocket. Ugh.

Soccer players don’t seem to have any trouble with it. In that realm texts have often replaced the most difficult kinds of face-to-face communications. Texts dissolve tension. I first noticed this during the World Cup. Manchester United teammates (and teen sensations) Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were involved in a fracas when they faced each other in the England/Portugal match. Rooney stomped on a Portuguese player, and Ronaldo complained to the referee. Rooney was ejected. Afterwards the English fans and press began to gang up on Ronaldo. But Rooney quieted things down. All was well, he said. He and Ronny had texted after the final whistle.

More recently, I was obsessed with David Navarro, a second-string player for Valencia who ran off the bench after a game and punched an opposing player in the face. He apologized via text. I imagine it said, “Sorry I punched you in the face.” What more could he add? TTYL?

American sports stars are also taking advantage of text messages’ strange mix of coldness and intimacy. When the Seahawks signed wide receiver Deion Branch from the Patriots, Tom Brady reportedly sent Matt Hasselbeck a text of lament and congratulations. Another QB/receiver pair, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, engaged in their own textual drama. After T.O. was in Dallas and reportedly overdosed on painkillers, McNabb told the press that he’d texted his old nemesis to wish him well.

“TO, Sorry you OD’d.”

But T.O. claimed he never got the text. The players communicated instead through the media. McNabb said the purpose of his text was to reach out to T.O., “to send the message that whatever had happened with that whole deal last week, if he needed somebody to talk to, to call.”

Maybe McNabb had the wrong number, some speculated. Owens responded, “Look, I’m not trying to start anything. He’s a smart guy. If he wanted my number, he could’ve gotten it.” Sometimes a text never sent is the best text of all.

A few years ago a friend and I did some research on telegraph codes and then started to use them in text messages. T.O. may have thought of texting “Reefy” which means, “Whatever the reports may be in the press do not be unduly alarmed. I am quite safe and sound. It may be some time before a letter reaches you, but there is nothing to worry about. It is quite possible an inquiry may be held here, in which case delay is unavoidable. Please do not take any notice of any alarming report you may read about in the newspaper. Will tell you all about it when I see you.”

McNabb could have written back, “Shipshape,” which means, “Congratulations. You have been mentioned in the press.”

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