Athletes advised to use good judgment on social sites

Despite recent controversies about U.S. colleges and their athletic teams’ social networking snafus, the university does not have a policy about student athletes having social networking pages, a university official said.

Mark Cohen, director of athletic media relations, said he and other athletic officials remind student athletes to use good judgment on their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

“Obviously there has been a lot of attention recently about some inappropriate posts, whether it’s by athletes at other schools or by professional athletes,” Cohen said. “We advise them (to) just have good judgment.”

Coaches in each sport have the authority to decide how to handle athletes’ online social network behavior, Cohen said.

Texas Tech University’s football coach, Mike Leach, recently banned his players from using Twitter after one of his linebackers posted a comment about Leach’s tardiness, according to ESPN.

Junior quarterback Andy Dalton said that it has not been a serious issue, but the coaches tell players to be careful of what is put on the Internet.

“I have a Facebook, but I make it so that the wall posting isn’t on there so no one can write on my wall,” Dalton said. “All you can see is my default picture.”

Dalton said the coaches advise that they take pictures off social networking sites.

Senior defensive end Jerry Hughes said he also uses caution when using social networking sites.

“I don’t want to be in a place or have something in the background that’s going to make me look bad,” Hughes said.

However, the football team has not run into any problems with social networking sites, Hughes said.

Lauren Otto, a senior volleyball outside hitter, said she thinks it is in athletes’ best interest for coaches to monitor what they post on their social networking pages.

“There are people out there that are specifically looking for us to get in trouble,” Otto said. “It is kind of smart for us to not have anything bad on there to keep us eligible.”

There is a general compliance meeting several times throughout the semester where athletes are reminded to be smart about social networking pages, she said.

“It is pretty simple to have a clean Facebook and a clean Twitter as long as you abide by the ‘grandma rule,'” Otto said.

According to the volleyball team’s “grandma rule,” players shouldn’t put anything on Facebook they wouldn’t want to show their grandma, like photos with alcohol, she said.

Student athletes should be allowed to have social networking pages because they are helpful tools in finding jobs and internships, Otto said.

“It is almost kind of essential to have it in college because that is one of our main forms of communication,” she said.

Daxton “Chip” Stewart, assistant professor in the Schieffer School of Journalism, said the Texas Tech coach banning his players from using social networking pages brings up an interesting free speech case.

“There may be a First Amendment right here for a student at a state university to speak by a certain media,” Stewart said. “The Supreme Court has not been clear at all about this, and appeals courts are divided about whether public school students participating in extracurricular activities have free speech rights.”

Brad Sutton, assistant athletic director at Southern Methodist University, wrote in an e-mail that SMU does have a policy in place regarding the use of social networking sites but did not elaborate on specifics.

“It is a policy designed to protect the student-athletes as much as it is to protect the university,” he wrote.

Sutton wrote that the university asks athletes to use good judgment when they use the sites.

“We remind them that as student-athletes participating in intercollegiate sports, they are representatives of the university and are always in the public eye,” Sutton wrote. “We tell them that potential employers, internship supervisors, graduate programs, and scholarship committees now search these sites to screen candidates and applicants.”