It was highlighted in ESPN back in February that head men’s basketball coach at Louisville, Rick Pitino, believes that social media and the internet are “poison” to athletes. I feel as though while social media can be a double edged sword (especially people in the limelight), social media (specifically Twitter) is an increasingly valuable form of communication and there are ways to avoid the distractions that come from the masses.
ESPN.com stated in an article published (along with a podcast) on February 20th, 2014, that “Rick Pitino doesn’t mince words when it comes to social media and sports…He doesn’t like it and believes his Louisville team is better when his players stay away from it.” The article cited Pitino as saying his players admitted to using “social media at least four hours a day,” and he believes this takes his players’ attention away from reading, “more important things,” and “impedes a player’s ability to communicate.” I believe that the exact opposite comes from social media usage, as Twitter and other social networking sites can actually be valuable resources for communication, self-promotion, and “important things.”
According to José van Dijck, Twitter’s “functionality as a network that helps users connect, and to initiate and follow conversations worldwide, obviously generated a mass of tweets and twitterers” (van Dijck, 2013). Van Dijck, a professor of Comparative Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, claims that Twitter’s main function is to initiate conversation and connect masses of people to a particular discussion. Twitter is “embraced as a tool for connecting individuals and communities of users—a platform that empowers citizens to voice opinions and emotions, that helps stage public dialogues, and supports groups or ideas to garner attention” (van Dijck, 2013). Back in 2010, “Wikipedia listed nine ‘notable uses’ for Twitter, each describing a real-life (or real-time) context in which Twitter had recently functioned as a central tool: in campaigning, legal proceedings, education, emergencies, protest and politics, public relations, reporting dissent, space exploration, and opinion polling” (van Dijck, 2013). Now what were those “important things” you were talking about, Pitino?
I think of things that I have personally experienced through Twitter, and I feel as though there are really important happenings in the world that have been covered by social media and social media has played an essential role in captivating these moments. The Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt immediately pops into my mind — the night my roommate and I stayed up all night seeing how Twitter was able to surface reports about the search for the suspects faster than television news stations. Then I think about social uprisings and movements that were polarized through social media — movements like the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring. “Neal Caren, an assistant professor of sociology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, and sociology doctoral student Sarah Gaby” were “tracking the spread of the protests and the role of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in linking supporters and distributing information. They found, “Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been central organizing locations for spreading information about Occupy Wall Street,” Caren said. “While the focus of Occupy Wall Street is on mobilizing individuals offline, online activities greatly facilitate these efforts. Facebook has become a recruiting tool for bringing in new supporters and getting people to events” (Caren & Gaby). As for the Arab Spring movement, “The Arab Spring uprisings are the first collective movements of their kind in the Middle East after the internet and social media revolutions of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, and tactics, techniques and procedures utilized by resistance populations during the Arab Spring may affect future movements. The factors of social media affecting public opinion and international support, rapid dissemination of news, widespread messaging, and the ability of the individual to spread information globally are relatively new phenomena during revolutions” (Lindsey, 2013). This evidence shows that Twitter was, and continues to be, an effective means of spreading beliefs about particular protests and politics, connecting individuals and communities, and communicating.
“Social media is like a gun. Not-so-smart people will shoot themselves in the foot with it…”
With that being said, “social networking presents new challenges for college athletic programs as college athletes can more easily divulge information about their personal lives and opinions, information that can cause distractions to the team and can lead to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violations and mass suspensions” (Walsh, 2011). When partaking in the social media experience, there are different rules/guidelines for college athletes, as they are in more of a position that can lead to trouble. Taken into consideration must also be the “private-public dichotomy” that exists for those who are members of the NCAA. Because the NCAA is a private organization, they are not “subject to the First Amendment because (it) is not a government (entity)” (Walsh, 2011). “If a college/university does not regulate Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites, and a player commits an NCAA violation using one of those mediums, the NCAA can suspend the player or declare the player ineligible” (Walsh, 2011). This seems to almost eliminate the First Amendment entirely, as per Davis Walsh (writer of Gaio article), “social networking and internet speech should be protected by the First Amendment in the same way that traditional avenues of speech are protected. The Internet has the potential to be the ‘self-operating marketplace of ideas’ that Professor Barron envisioned.” “It is on the shoulders of the student-athletes who represent their schools to use (social media) properly,” The Daily Tar Heel reports, but the NCAA should not be the governing body in determining punishment for something a student-athlete posted on an SNS; that is precisely why the justice and legal system exist. Athletes should not face fear when posting something on a personal page, or when trying to engage in discussion involving personal beliefs, because they do have the right to their own opinion, and Twitter (and other social media platforms) provide the outlet for them.
“Smart people will use it as a useful tool…”
According to a survey by the College Sports information Directors, about half of all the universities in the United States bother to train their student-athletes on how to use social media. As I pointed out, the NCAA is sort of coercing players to avoid social media and coercing coaches to ban SNSs, but “forbidding athletes” and “focusing on the negative only goes so far” (Grasgreen, 2013). “That’s why Colgate University officials are actually encouraging their (student) athletes to use social media often, with a focus on what should be said as opposed to what shouldn’t be” (Grasgreen, 2013). I find this particularly interesting because it is a direct response to the lack of protection by the First Amendment and the subjection to NCAA violations. If more student-athletes were trained on how to effectively use social media, and students understood that it is a marketing tool, more students would realize that Twitter (and other SNSs) are places where a positive image should be created. This is the message that Kevin Deshazo, a social media trainer for Fieldhouse Media, wrote. “Ninety-three percent of college athletes use some form of social media platform every day…colleges need to acknowledge that…They (student athletes) are going to make mistakes, and that’s O.K…That shouldn’t be the end of their life” (Grasgreen, 2013). Student-athletes should be taught to approach social media as a marketing campaign of themselves, and they control how well they sell themselves.
Michael Gaio, eMedia Editor of Athletic Business, wrote an interesting piece I found on the internet, titled “9 Social Media Dos and Dont’s for Student-Athletes.” Gaio recognizes that there are more colleges out there that are trying to educate their student athletes on social media usage, outside of Colgate Universtity and Ohio State University. The Director of Athletic Communications at Edgewood College, David Petroff, is working on educating Edgewood’s “student-athletes on the best practices for social media” (Gaio, 2013). “I don’t want to scare them, but rather have them see the positives and the power of social media,” Petroff says. Both Petroff and Gaio collaborated to note that there are four things to always keep in mind when using any SNS: first, social media is “a tool, not a toy,” second, “nothing is truly private…ever,” third, “if you retweet it (or share it), you own it,” and lastly, “every tweet reflects who you are.” After instruction, “It is (still) in the personal interest of student-athletes to regulate their tweets,” but education on how to properly use social media allows these athletes to “no longer (simply) market their on-field skills, but market their personalities and image” (The Daily Tar Heel).
Rick Pitino believes, “We as parents and teachers, we want our children, we want our players to communicate, to articulate a message, to get in front of a human resources person and articulate their passion for wanting a job…We’re losing our abilities to communicate, especially young people today” (ESPN.com). Newsflash, Pitino…the job application process is almost totally on the internet these days, and employers are utilizing social media sites to evaluate potential employees. So, just as colleges and universities like Edgewood, Colgate, and Ohio State are doing, we should be arming student-athletes with the power to communicate and create a positive image for themselves. This is no “If Joe jumps off the bridge, are you going to do it too?” scenario. By taking away social media and social networking from student-athletes, you are limiting them more: you are taking away a major outlet of communication, you are forcing them to fall behind in how to properly utilize the tools at hand, and you are limiting their ability to articulate their messages and ideas through the platform that everyone is using today. And that goes for all people who are banning the use of social media, whether it be other coaches, parents, schools, etc. Banning SMS/SNS use is doing more of a disservice to those who are unable to access the increasingly vital tools at hand, than it is a service.
There is no doubt that social media platforms are increasingly a part of our day-to-day lives. Each platform is different, but the different platforms allow for rapid, mass communication, efficient and quick connectivity, and, of course, power. As Peter Parker’s late-uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If we disarm student-athletes’ ability to utilize social media, not only are we limiting their ability to communicate, but we are also limiting their ability to promote themselves and enhance their professional image. However, if we continue to educate student-athletes on proper and positives usage of social media, we will eliminate the fear of arming them with their freedom of speech.
– Caren, Neal, and Sarah Gaby. “Sociologist Tracks Social Media’s Role in Occupy Wall Street Movement.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Sociology. N.p., n.d. Web.
– Gaio, Michael. “Blog: 9 Dos and Don’ts for Student-Athletes.” Web log post. Athletic Business. N.p., Oct. 2013. Web.
– Grasgreen, Allie. “Tweet Smart, Tweet Often.” Inside Higher Ed. N.p., 20 Aug. 2013. Web.
– Lindsey, Richard A. “What the Arab Spring Tells Us About the Future of Social Media in Revolutionary Movements.” Small Wars Journal (2013): n. pag. 29 July 2013. Web.
– Pitino, Rick. “Rick Pitino of Louisville Cardinals Sounds off on Social Media.” Interview. ESPN.com. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web.
– “Social Media Has Pros and Cons for Student Athletes.” The Daily Tar Heel. N.p., 29 Aug. 2013. Web.
– Van Dijck, José. The Culture of Connectivity. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.
– Walsh, Davis. “All A Twitter: Social Networking, College Athletes, and the First Amendment.” William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 20.2 (2011): 619-50. Web.