Social media spawns better communication between fans, student athletes

By Charlotte Carroll

A historic cycle for the Illinois softball program led outfielder Alex Booker to be named Big Ten Softball Player of the Week after capping off a weekend at the UTA Tournament in Arlington, Texas, on Feb., 21-23, where she batted .529 with nine hits, one home run and three stolen bases.

Its response led to numerous congratulations that flooded Booker’s Twitter with applauds from teammates, coaches and the Illini Nation. Particularly, one response came from a friend, sophomore Rommel Taylor Jr., whose friendship was gained in an unlikely way.  

The bond between Booker and Taylor Jr., is just one example of how social media has helped connect fans and athletes, even at the collegiate level.

A mutual love of burritos may not seem like a logical way to bring together athletes and fans, but thanks to social media, Booker can testify to its connecting capabilities.

Back on Oct. 15, Booker’s birthday, she jokingly tweeted about someone taking her to her favorite restaurant, Chipotle. Taylor Jr., a member of Illini Pride, responded.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    “We both have that common love of Chipotle, I mean, who doesn’t?” the senior Booker said with a laugh. “He tweeted at me that we should go sometime, and I was just like, ‘Hook a sister up over here.’”

    The pair had met before through social media, but that Chipotle date turned their online friendship into a real one.

    “Since the athletic community and the fans are so tightly knitted now, students and athletes don’t have a problem talking to each other,” Taylor Jr., said. “And athletes oftentimes reach back out. It’s just really interesting, even with the school being as big as it is, athletes are really willing to talk to other students and fans, because they’re students, too.”

    Coaching staffs have also found social media as a useful communicative tool and a great resource for reaching current students as well as alumni and prospective Illini.

    Social media has become a mechanism for sharing the news with a little added personality. Yet, it’s speed that has made sites like Twitter such a resource for the team off the field.

    “If I look around at young people, particularly our team when they can, they’re constantly looking for something on their phones,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “They want information fast. No one wants to look it up, no one wants to read a story. People want information fast, and if it takes longer than five seconds, it’s too much.”

    That information is crucial for bridging the gap between the Illini Pride community. As Taylor Jr. sees it, it’s the smaller sports that aren’t always taking a front seat for Illinois athletics that have the potential for truly connecting with fans.

    Taylor Jr., has seen more opportunities to really communicate with the smaller sport athletes that sometimes don’t come around with the big sports. To him, it’s all about connecting with the teams and creating a family atmosphere between athletes and students.

    For sophomore shortstop Danielle Trezzo, who went along with Booker to the Chipotle lunch with Taylor Jr., the combination of responsible social media and athletics has given her a way of meeting new people and staying connected to those people.

    “It’s all about being aware,” Trezzo said. “I think it’s cool to be able to support each other, and the fans support us. And we can show love back to fans when they show that they’re keeping up to date on stuff.”

    There are more Chipotle dinners on the horizon for Booker, Trezzo and Taylor Jr., when time permits. But for now, the athletes are going to keep using social media to connect with fans.

    “I feel connected to fans personally,” Booker said. “That’s my real life on Twitter, obviously keeping it appropriate, but that’s me.”

    Charlotte can be reached at [email protected].