Athletes are human beings. When a professional athlete has a subpar performance, or makes a glaring mistake, or even just when that athlete's team loses, it stands to reason that he or she isn't going to be particularly happy to be criticized by the media.
Unfortunately, in highly-scrutinized world of professional sports, avoiding that sort of criticism is impossible. As a result, most athletes have developed coping mechanisms to keep an even keel even in the face of vitriolic public opinion. Some don't read the news, while others internalize it and use it as motivation for future performances. Sometimes, though, self-control loses the battle, and an athlete comes out and expresses his displeasure with a particular journalistic opinion.
Rarely does this reflect well upon the athlete.
Darrius Barnes was hardly the reason why the New England Revolution lost to D.C. United on Saturday night. His most glaring error - completely whiffing on a tackle on Maicon Santos in the box - didn't even result in a goal. Nevertheless, his performance was (in the opinion of some) below-average, and it's up to the journalists and bloggers who cover the team to point that out.
Which is exactly what New England Soccer Today's Sean Donahue and Brian O'Connell did in Saturday's aftermath. Their weekly player ratings had Barnes at a 4.25 with comments on his performance, and then O'Connell went on to say that Darrius may have even played himself back onto the bench. Agree or disagree, Brian is not in the business of baseless conjecture and wild opinions; he backed up his assertions and made a valid point, as he generally does in all of his analysis.
Apparently Barnes didn't quite see it that way:
Uh-oh. The 140-character stream of consciousness strikes again! Barnes, obviously taking issue with some element of Sean and Brian's evaluation, took the opportunity to voice his displeasure, and in the process made it a matter of public record.
It didn't take long for Darrius to realize the faux pas and delete the tweet. He later attempted damage control:
A tweet I sent and deleted earlier was more Ab supporting my teammates than myself...I apologize if it came off negatively.— Darrius Barnes (@D_Barnes25) September 17, 2012
Everyone has their opinions and I respect that whether I agree or disagree— Darrius Barnes (@D_Barnes25) September 17, 2012
Look, there's no reason to believe that Barnes was being anything but genuine with those last two tweets. He could very well have been taking greater umbrage with the criticism of his teammates than of himself (which would be noble if true), and has never given anyone in the Revs community any reason to believe anything but the best about him. To this point Barnes has been a model professional.
This does more to highlight the traps and pitfalls that Twitter and the broad reach of the internet can create, and the nexus between an athlete with real emotions and a journalist whose job is to criticize that athlete's job performance; it's a minefield. Many athletes and journalists navigate that minefield deftly. Sometimes they stumble. Here, it looks like Barnes read the offending literature and had a quick flash, a momentary lapse in judgment, where he felt the need to express his anger.
Darrius isn't the only Revolution player to make this sort of (minor?) blunder. Lee Nguyen made a well-documented misstep while in Vancouver this past offseason, and last season there was rampant speculation about Shalrie Joseph's future back in August. In Nguyen's case, it was followed up by an apology, but may have contributed to Vancouver waiving him. Joseph refuted himself by re-signing with the Revs in the offseason.
Like it or not, Darrius Barnes is a person who is going to react to things written about him and those close to him. It's easy for fans - and yes, even journalists - to imagine professional athletes as stoic titans, emotionless when off the field. Such a characterization is a little unfair, and as Barnes proved today, sometimes they have very real and very visceral reactions to what we say and write.
It's also important for those athletes to remember the function of those they criticize. Journalists, bloggers, and pundits such as Donahue and O'Connell are not in the business of cheerleading; if someone doesn't play well, if there are coaching mistakes, or if the front office strategy is poor, the disapproval will come out. That's the job of someone covering a sports team. When Darrius Barnes calls writers "clueless," he's heaping the same hurtful criticism on those authors that they placed on him. The difference is that it's in the writers' job description.
H/T to Bryan Widell for taking a pic of the tweet.