Social Networking and College Athletes

Freedom of Speech in College Athletics Brent Schrotenboer argues that the reputation of colleges is more important than the views and opinions of a student-athlete that attends such colleges. Student-athletes participating on the women’s soccer team at San Diego State University were suspended for posting inappropriate pictures and statuses on a social networking site. They were warned by their coach that a punishment would be issued upon their continuance of posting such statuses about consuming alcoholic beverages and criticisms of the soccer program.

The students did not heed their coaches warning and were thus penalized for it. The student-athletes felt that the punishment violated their fundamental right of freedom of speech outlined in the Constitution. College administrators are desperately searching for a solution to this ongoing problem that allows anyone to access the postings of college students and athletes alike. Some colleges allow the discretion of college coaches to regulate their players’ social networking activities and others set regulations for all sports programs.

The total prevention of the use of social media by college athletes should not be implemented by college administrators because alternative solutions exist such as programs that aid coaches in controlling students’ social activities, social media is a valuable tool for student-athletes to connect with their fans and the world, and criticism is a fundamental right owned by any citizen of the United States.

As the issue of social networking in the college environment increases in difficulty, solutions to this debate have been researched, and one potential aid to coaches is the development of applications to help monitor student-athletes social media postings. Medcalf explains that Varsity Monitor is a firm that provides a computer application that allows schools to filter and identify problematic social media activity (“Policing”). Applications such as Varsity Monitor can greatly increase the power of coaches in regulating what their athletes post without encroaching on the right of freedom of speech.

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These applications do not prevent the athletes from posting inappropriate statuses, yet they allow the coaches to filter the statuses and delete them if warranted. This does not take away the freedom of speech because once the posts are up anyone can see them, so the act of free speech is upheld. If the coaches do not want the statuses to be continued to be seen however, they have the ability to delete them at their own discretion.

The coaches should clearly include that the applications are being used in their code of conduct if one exists at the university or college so as to prevent discrepancies among players and coaches when the coaches use their application to delete a post. Social media is a very effective way for fans and peers of college athletes to connect with each other. It is also used to quickly convey news about the team or college from the players to the fans which is considered vitally important to the recipients of the news because they want to support their favorite team.

Bruce Feldman interviewed Matt Barkley, USC’s starting quarterback who frequently uses twitter, and he stated “It’s my own words, my own thoughts that are coming directly from me, they (the media) can’t twist your words, because that’s exactly what you wrote” (“Social-media”). The social networks allow the athletes to voice their own opinion that is not altered by the media because what they post is exactly in their own words and it is not relayed to the public by a separate news writer or analyst.

This is a valuable aspect of social networking to college athletes because it solidifies their right of freedom of speech, and it allows their true opinion to be relayed directly to their fans. This also means that student-athletes must take responsibility for their own posts, and be aware that a negative response from their fans and the public is a possible outcome in reaction to their posts. Criticism is an important factor included in the freedom of speech, and at times it can be very controversial.

College athletes must be aware of what they post and they must consider if they post criticism that it may be risky. College coaches around the nation agree that student-athletes can be immature, and it is their responsibility to guide their players in what they say and do when in the public light. Zain Motani writes that we acknowledge that athletic departments and universities need to protect their brand, but at what point does this monitoring become Big Brother like and overstep the boundaries of what is and is not okay? (“The Use of Social Media”).

Coaches should guide their players in what they say instead of over regulating their social networking policies in order to uphold the first amendment which includes the freedom of speech. Many colleges and universities agree that their reputations cannot be tainted under any circumstances and they will take any degree of action to prevent a scandal associated with their respected college. Many administrators have the opinion that the easiest way to prevent a scandal is to ban all social networking activity by student-athletes.

Another policy that is being enforced at universities is that the players are required to give their passwords to their coaches. These policies violate the freedom of speech because it completely prevents players from expressing their own opinions. In this regard, college athletes are just like any citizen of the United States, and preventing them from using social networking sites takes away their constitutional right. The ongoing debate between coaches and their student-athletes seems monumentally difficult to resolve.

Finding a solution that pleases both sides of the argument is a delicate procedure. New technologies should be researched that allow coaches and administrators to exercise their power of regulating what their athletes post without angering them. An application like Varsity Monitor can be implemented with improvements that give coaches the ability to monitor and regulate what their athletes post before they are submitted for the public to see unlike the present programs that only allow the deletion of already posted statuses and pictures.

However, the use of these applications must be aware to the athletes and explained in detail in order to prevent misunderstanding between the two parties. Coaches can include what applications they are using and how they are using them in their original code of conduct that is signed by both coach and athlete. This can entirely prevent the posting of inappropriate statuses and pictures by student-athletes for good.

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