Last week, star Ohio State quarterback, Braxton Miller, posted the following photo on his Instagram page (@braxtonmiller92):
The photo quickly caused a stir, and Miller later took the photo down. Miller, a senior on the team, has an impressive 216,000 followers on instagram. So what is the issue? Well, it is against NCAA rules for an amateur student-athlete such as Braxton himself to be promoting a product, which it clearly appears he is doing in this post. The NCAA mandates that if a student-athlete gets paid to promote any product, they are ineligible from competition. (Sidenote: there is even a section in the NCAA bylaws stating that student-athletes should not promote or support the popular nutrition supplements AdvoCare.) Whether Miller is receiving compensation from AdvoCare or not, it is clear that Miller realized the post looked bad, considering the caption also prompted his followers to email him about inquiries for the product, and he should take it down, but not after it had already received thousands of views and “likes”, unfortunately.
In 2012, another Ohio State Quarterback, Cardale Jones (not sure who is supervising OSU QBs??), sent out the tweet below (@cordale10):
Cardale has over 154,000 followers on twitter, so he too has a large reach, and such a controversial tweet is bound to create a stir, even after being taken down by Jones. Despite stating an opinion of his own, that was not illegal or against NCAA rules, it was still a tweet that made Ohio State football look very bad, as there is already a large stigma surrounding athletes and academics, especially in big time football programs. This tweet only played up the “dumb jock” stereotype and gave Ohio State more bad press off the field.
Both of these cases demonstrate the negative implications of social media for college student-athletes, from personal implications and sanctions to general bad representation of the program and institution. It takes seconds to post a something on Instagram, and with the growing popularity of big time college football, these athletes are celebrities, and what they do garners a lot of attention. These split second decisions to tweet or post a picture are captured and can be saved forever, long after the posts are “taken down”. And unfortunately there is a lot at stake for these young student-athletes, who despite being adolescent teenagers when they begin college, have a lot of responsibility placed on them, and social media is often a trap for them.
So this begs the question, how do we handle student-athletes and social media, especially in an age where these athletes are garnering followers like the likes of professional athletes?
It is now common that most athletic departments put their student-athletes through some form of social media training, helping them decipher what is proper from improper. However, at the end of the day, as mentioned, these are teenagers, who even with “training” are often still to immature to make the best decisions.
So, some teams chose a more extreme option of total abstinence from social media. For example, the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team thinks the answer is making the players go cold turkey from twitter. And this appears to be working for them, as they are making a convincing run for another national championship. Associate head coach Chris Daley explains, “I put it to [the team] this way: I am saving them from themselves because there are adults and actors and athletes who at an emotional moment tweet something, and you can never take it back. It’s one less distraction they have to worry about.”
But what is the answer? While prohibiting something can help avoid any problems, it is not always the answer. The infograph below explores social media use by NCAA student-athletes, and demonstrates how many student-athletes are active on social media, and thus the necessity for proper social media education and training. When used correctly, social media can be a great tool and student-athletes can be great ambassadors for not only themselves and their personal brands, but for their teams and schools.
I intend to explore the use of social media in college athletics further in my presentation in terms of how athletic departments are utilizing it to promote their “brand,” and how/if a school should be using their student-athletes on social media to support the branding efforts. I am curious to hear what everyone else thinks. Is banning student-athletes from social media the answer? How do we go about training them appropriately to avoid instances like I mentioned?