While running the Phoenix Suns’ social media efforts for five seasons and the Phoenix Mercury’s accounts for one, I came in contact with plenty of ignorant and sexist opinions.
At first, I was shocked and appalled by them. Over time, I became somewhat numb to the fact that so many people were willing to say such horrible things because they either couldn’t comprehend that the entire world could see what they were saying or, the scarier reason, they just didn’t care.
The toughest thing to come to terms with was how exactly to respond, if at all, to such comments like “she should get back in the kitchen and off the court,” “these guys suck and are playing like a bunch of girls,” or “the WNBA is boring because they can’t dunk.”
These were the tame ones. Sometimes I’d take it head on but, more often than not, I’d choose to ignore them because of the alarming rate at which they seemed to take up real estate in the team’s feeds.
Now that I have a daughter, I wish I had done more — to point out these “keyboard warriors” and more to help educate those who may have just been ignorant to the realities of female athletes and athletics.
One team that has found the direct approach to taking on sexist trolls is the Minnesota Lynx. You probably have seen their tweets that call out ignorant claims while attempting to inform others. They are the brainchild of Shahbaz Khan, who serves as Senior Manager, Digital Content for both the Lynx and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Khan doesn’t look at the strategy as waging war as much as an effort to try to legitimately change the discourse on social.
“It’s less of a decision to go directly at folks and rather a decision to educate and acknowledge the massive ignorance and misunderstandings around the WNBA and with that, the Lynx,” Kahn said. “Social has given a voice to millions, and I’m proud to be a part of it, but in sports culture, the conversations around women and women in sports are severely disappointing.
“We’ve tried to do our best to have a strategy in place that empowers everyone in the industry and adds to the work, success, and mentality of the folks involved.”
The key to that being able to implement such a strategy is organizational buy-in from top to bottom. In Minnesota, that wasn’t an issue at all.
“Our leadership group has trusted in our group fully to navigate, strategize, and ideate around the social landscape,” Kahn explained. “We have a revamped social team with several diverse skill sets and talents (all team members on the social side have been hired in the past six months). Since my arrival, and since our team has continued to grow, we’ve gotten full buy-in from staff.”
Some advice below.
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 8, 2018
The Lynx took it to a whole new level, though, in their response by getting head coach Cheryl Reeve to actually record messages used to respond to trolls. It wasn’t a tough ask to get her involved since it aligns perfectly with her own view on the league.
“Coach Reeve is a glowing advocate for the W,” Kahn said. “She cares deeply about equal representation, so getting her buy-in on the strategy and thoughts involved was not an issue at all.”
As with any aggressive stance against less than progressive opinions, there’s an inevitable mixture of backlash and praise. The Lynx social staff deals with all responses by never getting too high or too low — a strategy every social media professional should implement.
“As with anything on social, there are mixed reviews,” Kahn said. “Online commenters who feel the need to hide insecurities behind anonymous personas have continued to spew ignorance, while others who advocate for the betterment of society have praised it. I’m a little biased as to which commenters and replies I prefer.”
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Social media seems to bring out the best and worst of our society — and professional sports social is no different. While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate ignorant and offensive comments, that doesn’t mean each team or brand shouldn’t do their part to help.
The approach the Lynx have taken — humorous, biting and informative — should be the template from which most teams take a cue.