If it would upset your Mom, don’t post it. This is a good rule of thumb for high school and college student-athletes when it comes to Facebook.
This may sound a little harsh to 16-22 year old high school and college students, the most active demographic in the Facebook universe. But consider the alternative: losing your scholarship, humiliating your family, and making the university you love the object of ridicule.
Facebook is a potential minefield that student-athletes have to learn to navigate. Athletes need to realize that a school projects a certain image and they are willing to go to great lengths to protect that brand.
Posting inappropriate material on Facebook is such a growing problem that some schools, including Kent State, have gone as far as banning athletes from participating in the social network. The university has since backed off that policy, but the problem has not gone away.
Freedom of Expression vs. Common Sense
Much like a great running back, Facebook can’t be shut down completely–one can only hope to contain it. Some schools, like the University of Arizona, have a policy that requires all of its student-athletes to have privacy settings so that only a select audience can view their Facebook page.
The NCAA has butted heads with freedom of expression organizations like the ACLU over this very issue. For now the First Amendment is trumping the NCAA as it has had a relatively hands-off approach while encouraging the schools to police their own athletes use of social media.
Don’t Let This Happen to You
Why all the fuss? At least two well-publicized cases have ended in the suspension of high school athletes in recent months. Their crime? Posting photos of themselves partying on their Facebook page. No doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of similar cases that never make the evening news.
You may think it’s cool to post a picture of you holding a beer–your coach, athletic director, professor, boss or parents will probably disagree. Apply the Mom rule and you should be okay.
How does a student-athlete strike a balance between being a responsible citizen while enjoying life and sharing his experiences with his network?
A Good Role Model
Myron Rolle played football at Florida State and currently suits up for the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. He follows two simple rules: Don’t accept anybody as a friend who you don’t know and never use profane language.
That’s a great place to start. But what else can you do?
Limit Your Time on Facebook
Make sure that Facebook doesn’t take over your life. Video games and time spent on Facebook are serious distractions for student-athletes, who have to be experts in time-management. Some are even forced to drop out of school because their grades suffer in the giant shadow cast by Facebook. It is sad indeed when a young person’s real life is negatively impacted by an obsession with life online. Set aside an hour at the end of the day to do Facebook and then be done with it.
Things You Should Never do on Facebook
Never use Facebook to complain about your coach or teacher. Never say anything that could be considered libelous or compromising to any of your future endeavors. And never complain about playing time on Facebook.
There have been numerous examples–at UCSB, the University of Texas, the University of Colorado, among others–where student athletes were suspended or dismissed from the team because of inflammatory Facebook postings. Members of the LSU swim team were dismissed after they criticized their coach online. These things are happening every day and it is good to outline a personal policy before it’s too late.
When Should I Defriend Someone?
Defriend anyone who may have ulterior motives. Fans of rival schools have been known to friend prominent college athletes posing as attractive females. They are often looking for opportunities to jeopardize an athlete’s eligibility or at least their ability to perform against their team. It’s a brave new world–be prepared.
Facebook is largely still a big gray area with the NCAA. For example, if an athlete mentions on his Facebook page that he likes a certain restaurant is that considered an endorsement that could force him to lose his amateur status? It is unclear–as are the answers to many other questions regarding Facebook and student-athletes.
What is abundantly clear, though, is the fact that Facebook is an increasingly complex issue for student-athletes and the schools they attend.
Cautionary Tales and The Rule of Mom
Athletes should always err on the side of being overly cautious. You will be accountable for what you do. And remember, when in doubt follow the mother rule: If Mom wouldn’t approve, don’t do it and definitely don’t post it.
As technology continues to evolve so will the challenges faced by student-athletes. In the end, it is important to remember that the technology is never at fault–it’s the people who are using it.