Rio Ferdinand used to just be a footballer. Now he's the footballer we follow on Twitter—and the one whose increasingly loose use of the social media site is the primary reason you read about him these days.
Ferdinand's latest ill-advised move came in the wake of the John Terry trial, a sorry affair that concluded with Terry found not guilty of racially abusing Ferdinand's younger brother, Anton. If ever there was a time for dignified silence this was it, but Ferdinand senior couldn't help himself.
Following the magistrates' verdict, Ferdinand received a Tweet from a user that read: "Looks like Ashley Cole’s going to be their choc ice. Then again he’s always been a sellout. Shame on him." (h/t Guardian)
The suggestion—certainly as most of us read it—was that Cole had in some way betrayed his heritage as a black man by giving evidence in defense of his Chelsea teammate Terry. Ferdinand has since claimed he doesn't believe the term "choc ice" to be racist, but regardless of his understanding he should have known better.
"I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic! hahahahahahha!!," Ferdinand tweeted back in validation—thus bringing the initial message to the attention of his three million followers and dragging football's already sullied reputation through yet another mile of mud.
Ferdinand quickly deleted the Tweet from his timeline, but not before the world's media had jumped all over it and he'd succeeded in exacerbating the fallout from the Terry racism affair. According to the Telegraph, the FA may yet decide to take action against the Manchester United defender.
It's remarkable to me that his manager Sir Alex Ferguson hasn't already done so. This is not the first time Ferdinand's Twitter account has propelled the news agenda, and it's hard to believe Ferguson hasn't confronted his player to challenge his use of the site.
When Ferdinand was left out of Roy Hodgson's England squad for Euro 2012, he made his feelings abundantly clear though Twitter. "'What reasons?????!!!," he wrote, in reference to Hodgson's assertion his decision was made purely for footballing ones.
Justified or not, it surely wasn't the right medium for his grievances. It betrayed a lack of class and put Ferdinand on the same level as rabid fans who troll the Internet screaming opinions to anyone who'll read them.
Free speech is all well and good, but if Ferdinand continues to engage his fingers before his brain then he runs the risk of undermining not just his own reputation, but that of the club Ferguson has built a dynasty at these past 25 years.
If I were Ferguson, I'd advise Ferdinand strongly to step away from Twitter. At 33, his playing days are numbered and there have already been signs in recent season that his decline is beginning to quicken. The last thing he needs are the kind of distractions that come Joey Barton's way every time he takes his outspoken views to social media.
Ferdinand only need look at the careers of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for examples. Their respective longevity has been earned through complete focus, and the respect in which they're both held is a result of letting their feet do the talking. Neither will be taking to Twitter anytime soon, that's for sure.
Maybe Ferdinand is all too aware of his fading prowess on the field. Perhaps harnessing a strong presence on Twitter is part of his preparation for what comes next? He already has a restaurant in Manchester and a magazine to run, and a strong media profile certainly would suggest the offers will come flooding in off the pitch when they dry up on it.
If Twitter is vital to his evolution, then so be it. But at least show the club who pays your wages—and the fans who continue to sing your name—that you appreciate the power of your position and deserve their respect.
Time is running out for Rio Ferdinand the footballer, and he'd be well advised to spend what's left of it enthralling his three million followers with his defending—rather than defending his latest post on Twitter.