Why Some College Coaches Restrict Twitter Use

Social media can cause problems on and off the field for athletic teams.

Photo: Thinkstock

To the average college student, social mediums like Twitter seem rather harmless. But to the select few who take their use of tweeting one step too far, the harsh reality is that the repercussions of social media misuse can be rather steep.

Take, for example, University of North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who was brought under fire in 2010 after tweeting, "I live in club LIV so I get the tenant rate ... bottles comin like its a giveaway," according to a recent TIME magazine article. Apparently, the athlete was quoting rapper Rick Ross, but the tweet caught the interest of the National Collegiate Athletic Association who eventually discovered that agents were giving Austin cash and paying for trips disguised as business events. In response to Austin's and other teammates' offenses, the NCAA banned UNC from this year's postseason and slashed its allotment of football scholarships for the next three years.

Student athletes should treat social mediums as they would a press conference –– be responsible and keep the message positive.

The case prompted some schools to more closely monitor their athletes' digital activity, while others simply banned usage altogether.

But some experts say banning athletes from using social mediums does not solve the underlying problem –– what's being said and the manner in which it is being delivered.

Lack of Free Speech for Athletes?

"I think student-athletes do have the right to free speech," said Kevin DeShazo of Fieldhouse Media –– an agency that works to help coaches, universities and students understand how social media can better their programs and careers. "They are legal adults and should not have restrictions placed on them."

Instead, DeShazo said, the real issue is the responsibility that is tied to being a representative of a university or college.

"I view social media the same way I do a press conference, only on a global scale," DeShazo said. "If they were to use certain, inappropriate words in a post-game press conference there would be consequences. The same is true on social media. They represent not only themselves, but their teams and universities and must act accordingly in a public forum. That's not a restriction, that's an encouragement of proper conduct."

Aaron Gottlieb, director of PR and communications at IF Management, Inc., agreed with DeShazo, adding that many universities are simply "failing to serve their primary purpose –– education.”

==An Opportunity to Educate==

"While some athletic departments have taken a step to educate their student athletes on proper use of social media in order to avoid incidents, many are choosing hide under their pillow and pretend the problem doesn’t exist by banning it altogether," Gottlieb said. "To simply think that in 2012, banning the use of social media among student athletes – potentially your greatest ambassadors and PR tools –– is something that can simply be ignored is absurd. Education and an open conversation is necessary."

DeShazo said all it takes is one look around a college campus to know that banning Twitter will not keep students from using social mediums when they consistently have their phones and other mobile devices in hand, a topic he blogged about during a July post for Fieldhouse Media .

"Student-athletes aren't just going to give it up because a coach tells them to," DeShazo said. "They'll get around it by creating accounts under a fake name, which creates another set of issues. Rather than restrict, universities should focus their efforts on educating student-athletes on how to use social media appropriately and why that matters. If they are shown how to use it well, it can be a valuable tool for both the student-athlete and the program."

DeShazo said that, while monitoring students' use of Twitter and social mediums seems to be a more effective practice among schools, it should not invade the privacy of a student.

"Student athletes should not be forced to give up access to password-protected content," DeShazo said. "Laws have recently been passed in several states that prevent universities from invading the privacy of student-athletes. We shouldn't be policing student-athletes online, we should be encouraging positive use."

Once a student understands the gravity behind his or her use of social mediums, Gottlieb said they will be able to better see the tools as another way in which he or she is available to the public.

"For student athletes who have amassed a significant following, social media is a phenomenal PR tool through which you are the sole creator and distributor of content," he said. "Someone once told me to think of it as a piece of clay. Everyone has one, but it’s up to you as to how you want to mold it and be seen in the public eye."

Quick Tips

  • Schools should consider monitoring students' use of social mediums as opposed to banning them.
  • Student athletes should treat social mediums as they would a press conference –– be responsible and keep the message positive.
  • Colleges and universities should focus on educating students who to properly use social mediums.

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