Patenema Ouedraogo talked his way past security in Tampa last month, saying he was Serena Williams’ assistant, and got all the way to her dressing room at the Home Shopping Network, where she was making an appearance. She had him escorted from the building, the allegation goes, but he just waited outside for her the rest of the day.
He tried to make contact with her at a Hollywood radio show in April. He followed her to a meeting with her agent in Los Angeles in October, saying he wanted to promote her clothing line and TV show in Africa. And he was arrested near her house in Florida this week for allegedly stalking her. He was carrying a note saying they were soul mates.
Ouedraogo, 40, said he kept track of Williams’ whereabouts. . .
By following her on Twitter.
This is another Twitter-related accident for tennis, and for sports in general. We have been overwhelmed by them lately. Less than two weeks ago, U.S. tennis player, Donald Young, the (former) prodigy, tweeted “Fu—USTA!!’’ They’re “full of sh–!’’ He ended up having to apologize. He also took down his Twitter account entirely.
This week, several athletes in several sports angered people with comments on Twitter about the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden. Pittsburgh Steeler Rashard Mendenhall tweeted “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side.’’
It created such an outcry that he issued a blog post later, saying he didn’t mean to sound pro-bin Laden or anti-U.S., that he was only commenting on the large celebrations over a “murder.’’
Well, this isn’t to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment Rights, but to warn athletes that Twitter can be dangerous. It is this new Internet toy, but it’s not all fun and games. It’s dicey business.
There is probably no way to stop one nutjob, if that’s what Ouedraogo turns out to be. But Williams’ attorney reportedly had a temporary restraining order put on Ouedraogo in October.
October. Yet on April 26, Jas Prince, son of Rap-A-Lot Records CEO J. Prince, tweeted to Williams: “u in Miami this weekend?’’ Williams posted that on her own Twitter page by retweeting it, and responded: “dang ru?? We need to hang so I can beat u. . .’’
On May 1, Williams retweeted onto her page this message from Minnesota Vikings player Bryant McKinnie: “Nice 2 be n Miami, Bout 2 meet up wit @serenawilliams 2 finish watching The Heat Game.’’
She tweeted in response: “Yea! Big bro. Can’t wait.’’
Williams has more than two million followers on Twitter, not to mention an unknown number of people, including me, who aren’t followers, but do check out what she says from time to time.
So it’s no surprise that Ouedraogo would be able to track her across the country.
Look, Williams can tweet whatever she wants. She has fun with it, and recently tweeted about her experience trying to find, and then buy, Booty Pop. Then, she asked “Should I wear the booty pop?’’
Williams also uses Twitter for professional reasons, announcing to her large following when she’ll be on TV selling her things, or when her books come out, etc. And she clearly tweets between friends right out in public.
It is just such an unclearly defined mess: personal, professional and fan club all in one.
I am on Twitter, too, @gregcouch, and I also mix personal and professional. In fact, you end up feeling as if you are friends with people you’ve never actually met or seen. And sometimes you forget that’s a public forum.
You can start believing that you and Twitter followers are sort of a private club. But that’s particularly a problem for celebrities, especially ones with two million followers.
Meanwhile, and I just wrote this yesterday in a Sporting News column about Mendenhall and others, athletes aren’t trained in communication, particularly in holding their thoughts to such a concise space, 140 characters including spaces between words. So they oftentimes are just spitting out things they either don’t mean or don’t understand how they’ll come across.
“I don’t think any topic is off-limits, to be honest,’’ Chicago Bears Chris Harris said Thursday afternoon on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, talking about athletes on Twitter. “You have to be smart enough, and you have to be able to have a filter, because Twitter is unfiltered. When you hit send, it doesn’t say `Are you sure you want to send it, yes or no?’ ’’
That’s where Donald Young fell apart. At some moment there, his filter said it was OK to drop the f-bomb publicly on the U.S. Tennis Association. Meanwhile, Williams knew she had a stalker with a restraining order, yet went along posting her whereabouts for anyone to see.
It’s not her fault if a stalker was coming after her. But things come out and hit the world sometimes, before you even know it. And with celebrities, someone is always watching.