Avoiding Trouble: Student athletes and social media

In August 2014, CBS News ran a story about St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Alabama implementing “the social media talk” as a pre-season ritual for football players. According to the article, “It’s about more than minding their manners.” The policies discouraged posting about injuries so players did not scare away recruiters and even warned against committing to a school via Twitter.

Sam Houston State University corroborates closely with the NCAA and its guidelines and recommendations in order to make sure that Bearkat student-athletes do not suffer the consequences that result from poor social media posts.

Contemporary society has seen social media advancements flourish, but that rush of progress can sometimes be accompanied by a need to regress when posting online. According to CIO.com, every 60 seconds there are about 50,000 photos posted to Instagram, 350,000 new tweets and 31 million messages sent on Facebook.

How many of these frequent users are college athletes? Maybe less than expected.

Sports is an integral part of every news network, with one of the most cult-like followings of any news topic. A perpetually fan-favorite story topic in contemporary society seems to be athletes’ adventures on social media (some good, most not). Despite the commonality of social media gone wrong, SHSU and many other universities have multiple practices in place to guard against these all-too-common virtual fiascos.

“Every team before they get into their season has a meeting with Chris Thompson [Associate Athletic Director for Student Services] and Curtis Collier [Compliance Coordinator],” Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Jason Barfield said. “A big part of that is social media policies do’s and don’t’s. They make sure to educate all of the athletes that you have to be careful. You have to be conscious of the fact that you are a Sam Houston athlete and a bigger microscope is placed on athletes.”

Mainstream media has allowed sports fans to see that the NCAA does not take social media lightly. It is already a huge part of journalism, and its impact on athletics throughout the nation is growing each season. When someone is an athlete, a tweet becomes more than just a tweet.

“The average student can post something and a lot of times it goes unnoticed, but a football player, baseball player, basketball player then is has more scrutiny on it,” Barfield said. “We’ve seen it nationally. It’s not just lip service. They’re pulling examples of other schools, other athletes that have gotten into trouble. The NCAA has guidelines on this. A simple tweet can get you suspended.”

In order to keep Bearkats from suffering this fate, the SHSU Athletics department addresses these potential pitfalls by requiring freshmen to enroll in a course that is basically a student-athlete 101.

“All incoming freshmen take a class called CHAMPS,” Barfield said. “It’s a life skills, how to be a student athlete. That class is an overview of everything you need, and they do spend time on social media and how you handle yourself online.”

By comparison, SHSU is lenient when it comes to when and what student-athletes can post on social media. They give their athletes a little more leash than some other universities, but it mostly stems from the enjoyable lack of issues the university has had in the past.

“There are schools that have very strict policies, and a lot of that stuff is reactionary to issues that they’ve had,” Barfield said. “We’ve been fortunate. We really haven’t had any issues. We haven’t had an incident that’s gone viral.”

Like most universities in the nation, SHSU has a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) comprised of athletes from every sports program. Their goals include improving intra-sport communication, providing student-athletes with a voice, providing gender-equal treatment and promoting overall quality academic and athletic experiences.

“Each team has athletes on the SAAC, and they have meetings and they do a really good job of policing themselves,” Barfield said. “There’s not as much administrative-involved monitoring as it is peers. It’s the athletes monitoring themselves. From what I’ve been told, a lot of issues get taken care of at the SAAC level without ever escalating to coaches or administrators.”

Adrian Contreras, junior safety for SHSU football and representative for SHSU SAAC, talked about how despite all the horror stories that show up in the news, social media can be used by student-athletes in a beneficial way.

“You don’t want to do anything or put anything out there that would make the institution or yourself look bad,” Contreras said. “That’s pretty simple. The thing is when you hear about social media and the NCAA, it can have a negative connotation but it can be used in such a positive way, like promoting our [school] name and other teams at the school.”

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