When Athletes Are Left to Their Own Digital-Dating Devices
ESPN The Magazine|May 09,2016

In the age of digital dating, athletes work in ways that make average lonely hearts look like amateurs: city arrivals broadcast on Twitter, covert Tinder profiles, steamy Snapchats … and, of course, nondisclosure agreements.

Sam Alipour

​THE SINGLE MAN with the sexy job is stuck. For starters, he is fairly thick, just large enough to have not seen his Adam’s apple since never, and to have not enjoyed a ton of success with women on looks alone. When he catches their eye, it’s his social status or bank balance they see—because he is, in fact, an NFL lineman.

Tonight he’s in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, not for the actual game, which kicks off tomorrow, but to kindle a legit romance, which, to him, is the Big Game. His field of play: the Maxim party, the wackiest Super-soiree any of the regulars can remember. From the stage, Lil Wayne and his joint command a dance floor of hundreds. Up above dangles an aerialist. Down below is, inexplicably, a kangaroo. And all around are runway models, Instagram models and fresh faces bused in from across the Bay Area. When they’re not milking the open bar, they’re arm-tackling stars like Marshawn Lynch.

Now imagine how a guy who is often mistaken for an NFL star’s bodyguard would find a match in this crowd. In years past, it was a long shot. But at the moment, the lineman is dancing with a pretty lady, who’s very much into him. The kicker: She knew she was into him before she knew how he earned a living. How did that happen?

“Tinder—it’s the best invention ever,” he says with a hearty laugh, as if he can’t believe his good fortune.

Like 50 million other fish in the dating app’s sea, he swims the murky waters in search of companionship, if not lasting love. Unlike the majority, he must go to extreme lengths to stay afloat, deploying an arsenal of tricks developed by the stars for the stars. But the qualities that make him an extra-large catch to virtual predators also come with outsize benefits. Of his five Tinder winners, he estimates he has a real shot with two. And that, in part, is why I’m not allowed to use his name or even true position. So I coined a handle: Tinder-Slaying Tackle. He thinks it’s funny but not entirely accurate. “A girl I was with last week,” he says, “I met on Twitter.”

WHEN THE HISTORY of the early 21st century is written, it will kick off like this: All the world can be had on an app. Tickets to watch the Lakers lose? StubHub! A quinoa bowl with a side of boring? Grubhub! A bare-tushed Kim Kardashian? Everywhere! An IRL bare tush? Tinder! Or, if it’s more your thing, Grindr! Or Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Vine …

Mobile dating overtook online dating in 2012 and, based on a 2015 study by Global- WebIndex, now claims more than 91 million users, but that number doesn’t include platforms repurposed for romance. “Twitter and Instagram are basically dating apps now,” says hockey journeyman Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette, a professed app player. “Every athlete uses them to hook up, and if they say they haven’t, they’re lying.”

Some 80 other athletes interviewed for this story support the claim—jocks of all sports and stripes are using social media to search for a Ms. or Mr. Right, or at least Right Now. If you consider the pros’ distinct ​advantages, including fame, fortune and sculpted bodies, and factor in the atypical challenges, such as long days in a unisex workplace and a life on the road, is it any wonder they press a screen when they want to press up against somebody?

“It’s not like we need help, but social media makes women so accessible,” says Washington receiver DeSean Jackson, who has used Instagram. “I’ll send a comment, and if they reply, you ask for a date. It’s easy.”

Like Jackson, most athletes prefer Instagram for its wealth of intel. “Thirty photos can give you a pretty good idea of a person’s personality and interests,” says motocrosser Bruce Cook. “It might even be more organic than meeting a stranger at a bar,” offers Olympic freeskier Nick Goepper, who tells the story of his recent journey down IG friends’ tags. “This girl pops up,” he says. “I thought, ‘Huh, similar interests and friends.’ Now we’re planning a date over FaceTime. Social media is an awesome dating tool.”

​Meanwhile, sprinting bobsledder Lolo Jones has flipped Twitter-connects into many iDates. “Great-looking guys are all over social media,” says the Olympian, who also dabbles on Tinder. “But I’m still single.”

So how does Tinder work? Don’t ask the Cavaliers. “It’s big in younger locker rooms,” guard Joe Harris says. “We’re older, so Tinder is probably foreign to these guys.”

“Teender? Show me,” says big man Timofey Mozgov, snatching my phone. “All right, what is it? A game?”

Sort of. Swipe left if you don’t dig her; swipe right if you do.

“I see, just random girls …” Mozgov says, swiping rapidly, 10, 15 times, all to the right. Um, dude, stop swiping? “Trust me,” he says, just as he strikes a match. “She likes you! OK, we send a message: ‘Hi, can we meet?’”

The cavalier cupid is beside himself with laughter. “If you know girls like you, you don’t need to do the dirty works! So easy. I wish they had it before I got married.”

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