For college athletes, quick decisions on Twitter have implications
Press send with great caution.
Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, student athletes are encouraged by coaches and others to watch what they post or tweet on their accounts. Because of social media, fans are closer than ever to their favorite celebrity actor, athlete or even a former love interest. All it takes for a connection is to simply press “follow.”
That closeness has several benefits — it’s easier to galvanize a fanbase or for coaches to reach recruits — but twitter has already cost real world jobs and scholarships. Head coach Tony Levine said the team stopped pursuing three potential 2014 recruits because of inappropriate remarks on social media.
At the beginning of each year, the communications staff reviews the department’s social media policy with each of the 17 UH teams.
Then, each student athlete is required to read and sign the “University of Houston Social Media Policy” contract prior to competing. The contract entails tips and guidelines they are required to follow. It’s designed to ensure their online activities don’t interfere with the responsibilities on their respective team.
Cornerback Zachary McMillian is one of 14 seniors for the Cougars and is viewed as one of the leaders. He said he’s confident with his team when it comes to using social network appropriately.
“When you don’t have mature people who are you using it, it can be used negatively,” McMillian said. “You have to try and continue to show yourself in a positive light and know that it’s not just you and your friends who you’re talking to. You’re talking to a whole lot of people who are watching and looking at you.”
At least once every semester, the student-athletes are required to participate in a seminar where coaches and members of the Communications Department speak to them on what is viewed appropriate and not to post anything that may be questionable or draw negative interpretations.
“We advise our student athletes that nothing they put on their social media pages is private,” said Jeff Conrad, director of communications.
“They should conduct themselves on their social media pages exactly as they would if they were in a press conference filled with media and cameras. Just because they are in their apartment by themselves when they post a message on Facebook, does not mean that their message is going out to just their family and friends. Once you hit “Post” or “Tweet”, the message is out and can’t be brought back quickly or easily.”
In addition to the advice presented to them, the student athletes are given disciplinary procedures for violations of the policy and are required to sign. The penalties would either include a written warning, a meeting with the athletic director or expulsion from the team and loss of some or all athletics financial aid.
“We talk to our team about (Twitter) all the time. What everybody has to understand is that when I had hair, we didn’t have Twitter, so it’s something that is relatively new,” Levine said.
“I am on Twitter and I’ve posted maybe 300 times in two years and what I will do is type it out and have four people read it before I hit the tweet button to make sure how it will be interpreted. It’s very important; it’s a different day and age, so we educate our players on that.”
With the push of a few buttons, communication has never been easier between coaches and recruits.
Outside receivers coach Brandon Middleton, a UH receiver from 1999 to 2003, said social media’s ability to expose today’s recruit is the biggest difference between his time as a player and now. Without social media, Middleton said he and the majority of the recruits had to wait until signing day to build a rapport with coaches. Today’s recruits don’t have to wait to learn about their position coaches.
Middleton said social media has its pros and cons when it comes to recruiting because it allows coaches to get frequent updates with the player’s posts or tweets.
“Everybody is going to say the kid is a good kid, but then they really put themselves on blast and show their true identity is when they don’t think anyone is looking when they are tweeting,” Middleton said. “It also kind of gives the chance for the coach and the player to build a relationship with the player; and because of Twitter and Facebook, that’s why you see players commit to a school as early as they do.
“I look at what time they are tweeting. If it’s a school night and you’re up 3 a.m., it raises questions and I get a little ‘lukewarm’ because it tells me if they can’t handle it there (in high school), they can’t handle it at the college level,” he said.
Levine said it’s a benefit, but it is also a double-edged sword, as he has already taken action regarding recruits.
“We’ve dropped at this point three recruits already based on things they’ve posted on their social media accounts… There are certain things you’re looking for and it gives you an insight into the young man you’re talking about coming into your program,” Levine said.