Twitter, along with many other social media websites that exist today, is popular in the journalism profession. Reporters use Twitter to report the news, while athletes, whether collegiate or professional, often use Twitter to get their news and keep up with the world.
Social media can be dangerous for anyone who doesn’t choose their words carefully, but it can be especially dangerous for college athletes because they are often under a bigger radar representing the university in so many ways.
When athletic programs at any given school are competitive like they are at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, athletes and coaches must be wise when it comes to tweeting. Competing at a high level will bring more attention to any program, so athletes on UW-Whitewater’s campus just need to be careful about what they say.
Considering the risky business Twitter can be when an athlete accidentally slips, should there be some sort of limit on how much a college athlete is allowed to use the website? It has happened at the professional level in sports on more than one occasion and coaches across campus hope to educate their players on the proper procedure.
If a college athlete says something out of line or if he or she uses some bad language on Twitter, it can hurt their chances at a professional career, let alone anything else. If a professional athlete says something ignorant or ill-minded on Twitter the media will be all over it, and the athlete may be haunted for some time if not forever by unintended, heat of the moment tweets.
Michael McKnight is a writer for SI.com and he wrote an article last July on Twitter on the modern athlete. He talks about current New York Giants defensive back Will Hill and his troubles with ignorant tweets. McKnight said that Hill openly discussed sex and marijuana on his Twitter feed while in college. He went undrafted and spent a year in the Arena Football League before making the Giants roster.
Other ignorant tweets that have been in the news recently include Matt Barnes of the Los Angeles Clippers calling out his teammates for being “soft” after he was ejected for defending a teammate. He tweeted angrily from the locker room right after the incident, but apologized later.
Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito are former Miami Dolphins offensive linemen who are suspended indefinitely due to a racial voicemail and some back and forth on the Twitter feed. And even though some may say Chad Johnson, or Chad Ochocinco, is out of football for being washed up, some others might say he was more worried about tweeting than playing football.
Despite all of this negative banter among professional adult athletes, coaches and athletes alike believe putting any sort of restrictions on Twitter for their athletes is nearly impossible. Between First Amendment rights like freedom of speech and monitoring something that large being a difficult task, Twitter restrictions for college athletes is an unlikely outlet.
The NCAA has its regulations for each division of college athletics and instead of trying to monitor college athletes in a world of billions on the web, they have a simple message for athletes. “As social media continues to evolve and change at a rapid pace, please use your best judgment.”
Amy Edmonds, Interim Athletic Director at UW-Whitewater, has just taken over for Dr. Paul Plinske after he took the same position elsewhere, this semester but she has been an assistant athletic director for a couple of years prior. She is well aware of the regulations set up by the NCAA when it comes to social media, and she feels they are strict enough.
“Pretty much every institution comes with the idea of education,” Edmonds said. “No one has mandated rules or penalties associated with it (Twitter), generally most folks take the idea of education.”
Edmonds pointed out what most, if not all coaches try to teach, and that is to educate rather than regulate when it comes to social media. The Warhawk men’s basketball team won a national championship in 2012, and they have been competitive for a few years now. Head coach Pat Miller has been a big part of the team’s success, and a main focus of his is to continuously educate his players.
“Personally, in a perfect world, I’d be happy if they were never on Twitter, but with the way things have changed with social media whether it is Facebook or Twitter I think that is just a part of the culture,” Miller said. “Instead of battling that I think it is important to educate them on what is appropriate.”
Even though everyone’s voice is heard on Twitter, athletes are often noticed more than the ordinary person. The popular players, collegiate or professional, are certainly noticed, so they must be more careful than others when it comes to voicing opinion on social media.
UW-Whitewater is not a division I school like UW-Madison or Ohio State University that gets a lot of national attention, but with the Warhawks football program being noticed on national TV so often lately, the school does get noticed.
The football program at UW-Whitewater is nationally known as a division III powerhouse, but many don’t know that the athletic program as a whole is very competitive. The recent national championships in football (2011) and in men’s basketball (2012) have already been mentioned, and the football team plays in the Stagg Bowl again this year against a familiar foe the Mount Union Raiders.
But the competitive success goes way beyond those popular sports at the university. In 2012 alone, the university won five different national titles. Along with football and men’s basketball, they won a title in men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball and they also won a title in gymnastics.
The women’s basketball team finished as runner-up to the national title last year falling to an undefeated (34-0) DePauw University. In 2012 the wrestling team had its best conference finish in many years, and the volleyball team has been very competitive in the last five to ten years winning it all in 2008. Even both the men’s and women’s tennis teams compete at a high level year after year.
The Warhawks have even proven their dominance in multiple club sports over the years. Among the various championships won over the past five years or so in men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball, the men’s rugby team has had recent success. Despite falling just short this season finishing in third place, they won a national championship in 2011.
The student athletes on campus understand Twitter and they know how to be smart. They have been in the spotlight, and they know how to present themselves to the world. Players from the men’s basketball team like Quardell Young and Cody Odegaard have been on the big stage as a part of the national championship team in 2012, and they are both frequent Twitter users. Players from the women’s team like Abbie Reeves and Mary Merg were a big part of the women’s team that had a shot at a national title last season, and they are both frequent Twitter users.
These student athletes, like many student athletes, use Twitter to find out recent news, and keep up with people close to them who also use Twitter.
“I use it to keep up with friends and entertainment purposes, you know social media,” Merg said. “I use it to keep up with the world around me. I follow celebrities, athletes, sportscenter, and stuff like that.”
Merg, like many athletes her age, grew up in the age of social media and everything that goes with it.
“I wouldn’t say I use it to keep up with friends because most people I follow on Twitter I still keep in touch with any ways,” Odegaard said. “I get a lot of sports stuff from Twitter, and stuff like photos and funny comedy things that I follow.”
“For me it’s a friend thing, personal thoughts, sports world, you know it’s kind of like a news feed,” Young said. “If anything big goes on in the world, it will be on Twitter in a matter of seconds.”
These athletes are like most people in the world, they are not looking to cause problems, and they just want to know what is going on in the world around them. They understand that Twitter is a voice for everyone in the world, and they must be on their best behavior when speaking to the public. These student athletes have futures of their own that they don’t want to jeopardize, and they have many younger people following them and looking up to them.
“Are coaches just remind us that we are all adults we know what’s right and wrong,” Reeves said. “Stay away from swearing because we have little kids who come to our games and that follow us on Instagram and Twitter. So we try to be careful what we say on there, be careful with photos, and watch what we retweet. So we just have to be smart and use our heads.”
Being smart is the key and most, if not all, athletes know how to use Twitter respectively. While most coaches are comfortable enough to admit their players are smart enough to use Twitter on their own, educating is never a bad idea.
“Make sure they understand that anything they put out there is out there forever,” Miller said. “Employers look at those things, so anything you say on there can come back to bite you in the future so be responsible if you’re going to use it (Twitter).”
While most coaches are on Twitter and other social media websites on campuses across the country, some are knew to this world just this year. Wrestling head coach Tim Fader and women’s head basketball coach Keri Carollo are both new to Twitter this school year. Like Miller, they see the website as a useful “marketing tool” and “a good way to get your name out there.”
“This summer I went to a convention in Florida and they talked about the possibilities for your sports program, especially wrestling,” Fader said. “If you want to communicate to your fans and to your recruits then you need the most current ways. You need to speak their language.”
Like Fader, coach Carollo is new to the world of Twitter, but she understands its possibilities of further promoting an already successful program in the ever changing world of social media.
“Along with Facebook and Vine and all those other things out there I think it (Twitter) is a good way to get information out there,” Carollo said. “It can be abused and over used at times when people say hurtful things personally or about our program, but for the most part it has been a very positive thing for us.”
Despite some negative things said about Twitter and the negative consequences that go along with using Twitter inappropriately, it can be great tool for both journalism and those in the sports world. It can be especially important as long users understand how to use it.
“Twitter is useful tool for anyone to get their brand out there, for one,” Edmonds said. “It can be a very important and significant tool, but unfortunately, some folks abuse it too. So anybody that is on Twitter has to be educated on one, what their purpose of being on there is, and two, what they want to get out of it and what their brand is going to be within it.”
While the NCAA has looked into it, there is really no practical way of monitoring college athletes on Twitter all across the United States. Besides, college students are adults and they have every right to speak their mind like any other citizen in our country. Not only would monitoring Twitter like that be nearly impossible, it would be illegal.
The NCAA already has a specific set of guidelines for athletes and coaches to follow, and the coaches do a fine job of educating their pupils on the dangers of Twitter.
“We try to emphasize it is not a personal thing and that it’s a public domain,” Miller said. “Anything they put on there is for public consumption and even if you take something off people are going to be able to access it. I don’t know that you can restrict their ability to communicate. When you are dealing with people in the 18-22 year old range, they unfortunately make mistakes and they do things they’re probably going to regret later in life like all of us did, so you just try to educate and regulate.”
The bottom line is, as long as athletes understand Twitter is not a personal thing, they will be able to make smart decisions. With a little guidance from coaching staffs player don’t need babysitters, or anyone to watch what they say, they are college students not idiots.