Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters
February 25, 2013, 12:43 pm
By David J. Leonard
A few months into his inaugural season at Washington State University last fall, the football coach Mike Leach faced yet another controversy. Plagued by allegations that he had mistreated a player while coaching at Texas Tech and a reputation as a bit of a loose canon, Leach was about to wade into what some people consider another form of abuse—barring players from using Twitter.
Reporters from a student news service had provided Leach with evidence that several players apparently posted messages on a social-media site that included negative terms for women and African-Americans. Leach imposed an immediate ban for the entire Cougar football team. “If after today you see anything on Twitter from our team—and I don’t care if it says ‘I love life’—I would like to see it because I will suspend them,” he announced.
Leach’s decision is nothing new. In 2010, Chris Petersen (Boise State University) decided that intercollegiate athletics and social media were incompatible. The next year, Steve Spurrier (University of South Carolina) and Turner Gill (University of Kansas) followed suit. Then Mississippi State’s basketball coach, Rick Stansbury, took away his team’s tweeting privileges after a player criticized the team on Twitter. “The reason we decided to not allow our players to have a Twitter account is we feel like it will prevent us from being able to prepare our football program to move forward. Simple as that.” Tell that to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose road to NCAA punishment started with a tweet from a player about his lavish lifestyle. UNC would ultimately lose 15 football scholarships—that’s less than 10 characters per scholarship.
Outright bans have not been the only approach. Some institutions have suspended players for tweets. A Lehigh University student-athlete was disciplined for retweeting a racial slur; at Western Kentucky University, officials suspended a player who did the unthinkable—criticizing oh-so-important fans in social media. At Boston College, a women’s soccer player was suspended because of several tweets about Jerry Sandusky.
Other colleges are employing commercial monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, Centrix Social (recently acquired by Varsity Monitor), and UDiligence to flag the use of a growing number of taboo words. According to The Chronicle, the University of Louisville nixes references to drugs, sex, and alcohol; the University of Kentucky, agents’ names.