“And that’s all I have to say … about that,” Steve Czaban wrote on his Twitter page Jan. 1.
And then he was gone. The ESPN 980 and Yahoo Sports Radio host hasn’t written a word to his more than 24,000 Twitter followers since that day. He didn’t write a word as the Redskins scored two quick touchdowns against Seattle, didn’t write a word as Robert Griffin III limped his way into the fourth quarter, didn’t write a word during the endless post-injury recriminations phase. As social media sites went bananas for seven days about the Redskins and Mike Shanahan and James Andrews — Czaban’s wheelhouse if ever there was such a thing — he remained silent.
He deleted Twitter from his phone, removed it from his iPad, and just went about the business of being a local and national sports-radio host.
“I’ve gone 14 days,” he told me Monday. “I feel like 14 days sober.”
Czaban had been pledging to give up the site for a variety of reasons, some that you’ve heard before and some that maybe you haven’t.
There’s the occasional nastiness that can infiltrate exchanges, the slippery slope in which you suddenly find yourself trading unfriendly barbs with anonymous strangers. Czaban became particularly well-acquainted with that routine after sending a perhaps less than sensitive tweet about Andy Reid over the summer, which made it onto national blogs and prompted a whole lot of unfriendliness from Eagles fans.
“I was a little bit messed up mentally there for a day or two,” he said. “Why have I invited onto my personal cell phone a little app that delivers hate right to my eyeballs? What kind of idiocy is that?”
Then there’s the time factor. For those of us hopelessly addicted to the site, the sports news never stops; we read it in the middle of the night, as soon as we wake up in the morning, while making our children dinner, and while watching all manner of sporting events and award shows and weather events.
“There’s this urge, as I’m watching games, to fire something in there,” Czaban said. “And then it becomes like an extra job on the weekend, like I’m not tweeting enough.”
But especially, Twitter seemed dangerous. An anonymous desk worker, Czaban said, has little to worry about from the site; he can get sports news, ask questions, express opinions. A mega-celebrity is relatively safe, too, because mega-celebrities likely won’t lose their status over a single clumsy tweet.
But for the middling newspaper writer — or the sports-talk radio host who doesn’t shy away from controversy — Twitter is one more way to get in trouble, an often context-free zone in which a poorly conceived message can suddenly go viral and land you in some corner office before your second cup of coffee.
“Basically, it’s too damn dangerous for somebody like me,” Czaban said. “Brick-and-mortar companies that pay your salary treat Twitter as if it’s the highest form of communication that can ever be written. And it lacks context. People say you can still be funny, just be careful about what you tweet. Be careful, sure — but you don’t know the way something is going to take off. There’s something very dangerous about the viral nature of Twitter. … And so I just decided, you know, it’s just not worth it.”
And the Shanahan/RGIII episode during the Seattle game seemed to justify his caution. As a longtime advocate of using caution with the rookie quarterback, “I was so stunned and pissed off and just out of my mind, I would have tweeted things about Shanahan that were quite inflammatory,” he said. “But I had vowed off Twitter. So I resisted the urge, the sun came up the next morning, I was on the radio, and I could say what I wanted to say about it with context, with non-verbal cues, with follow-up, with all the nuance of language. You can’t encapsulate something like RGIII’s injury in 140 characters. There are many, many shades and degrees of it, and that’s conveyed through the medium I’m paid to do, which is radio.”
Czaban hasn’t closed down his account; his agent recommended he preserve it. He isn’t promising that he’ll never go back. And he isn’t trying to be an evangelist about the benefits of a Twitter-free lifestyle.
“I’m not on any kind of Jihad about how this is ruining civilization,” he said. “It’s just a personal choice. This is just a social networking Web site; it’s not the end-all and be-all.”