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Cubs’ Kris Bryant is wise to block out the ugliness of social media

Kris Bryant receives high fives from teammates after hitting a first-inning home run in a Cubs' spring-training game against the Brewers on Feb. 23. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

The newspaper business is branching into the digital world more and more, so you might find it strange to learn that I cheer whenever someone has decided that social media isn’t the healthiest development in the history of mankind.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is the latest professional athlete to say that he’s banishing the “outside noise’’ that can be detrimental to performance. So, yay, Kris.

A columnist smiling when someone walks away from social media might be the very definition of insanity. One person forsaking Twitter or Facebook means one less person stumbling upon our websites, our stories and our ads.

But there’s something brave and right about a fellow human being figuratively putting a finger in each ear and humming. I think most of us, journalist or not, know that Twitter often is unhealthy. Unless you’re comfortable with being called vermin — and you will be if you engage on Twitter long enough — it’s not the best path to strong self-esteem. This has dawned on Bryant, and his vow to not pay attention to it this season should be good news for his team.

“Last year we let some of the outside factors influence us and what we were seeing and what people were saying about us,” Bryant said. “And it compounded things. At the end of the day, that noise doesn’t matter. It’s what we believe and what we want here. It’s important for us to tune that out and do what we do best.

“Especially this year. I have a different approach to things, and I’m tuning out the noise and distractions and realizing it doesn’t matter what people say about our team and our offensive group. It really doesn’t matter. It’s what we do, it’s what we want to do. It’s how we prepare. It’s all that matters to us. If we can limit that outside noise, I think we’ll realize our full potential.”


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Bryant saw the underbelly of social media when he sat out a third of last season with a shoulder injury. He called it the “rabbit hole of Twitter,’’ and he found out that once you’re in it, you’re in danger of viewing yourself the way some outsiders do. It can happen even to a National League Most Valuable Player. One day you think you’re a pretty good baseball player, the next you learn from a Cubs fan with 27 Twitter followers that the team should trade you. You can be the strongest person in the world, but it can add up emotionally if you read enough.

Social media is at cross-purposes with the millions of dollars that professional franchises spend on sports psychology. A few fans ranting on Twitter can undo everything a player has learned about bringing a positive frame of mind to his job. If I were a general manager or a coach, I’d tell players to get off social media. First Amendment? What First Amendment?

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky swore off Twitter before last season. No one knows whether it was a reason he showed improvement in his second year in the NFL, but one thing is certain: It didn’t hurt.

Bryant isn’t isolating himself. It’s not as if he’s moving to a remote cabin, living off the land and getting a role on one of the 50 reality TV shows about surviving in Alaska. Same with anyone else who doesn’t feel the need to wade into the muck of social media. But it does mean that he’d like to get away from an experience that sometimes left him feeling frustrated.

Those who are around Bryant regularly say he seems more at peace these days. He’s one of a handful of players who has made himself available to the media on a daily basis during spring training. Is all of that a result of his staying away from social media? I’d like to think it is.

It’s not just Bryant, either. There’s a teamwide thrust toward being more focused this season. Many in the organization, including president Theo Epstein, thought the Cubs’ attention wandered last year. More of the team leaders seem to be having less to do with social media these days.

I have no research at my fingertips that tells me it will help, but I do know that social media can chip away at an athlete’s confidence. Why would anyone whose job depends on physical and mental powers working in concert allow something from the outside to intrude? Bryant would never allow someone to put a foreign substance on his bat handle. Why would he let someone put a negative thought in his head?

I suspect Bryant will continue to post photos on Instagram. He’s not shy around a camera. But if he’s smart, he’ll stop reading the comments.