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Coaches Wrong To Forbid Athletes’ Use Of Twitter

Ccoaches should encourage athletes to generate support for BC teams via social media

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

This semester, Boston College has exploded onto the social media scene, with over 300 social media accounts representing various areas of life at BC, from Student Services, to Residential Life, to athletics. BC has more than 25,000 Twitter followers on their official account, and was recently ranked the ninth most social university by Mashable.com, a ranking determined in part by each university’s Klout score, which shows how influential a particular institution is on social networking websites. The University’s Social Media Council (SMC), established to address the growing power of social media, facilitates collaboration between departments and looks for areas where BC can expand its online presence. The SMC has expanded from overseeing only the University’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages, to including accounts on Flickr, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest, as well.

It is clear that the University is trying hard to connect with students and the rest of the BC community by using social media, and The Heights commends them for doing so. Social media is a simple, quick, and effective way of reaching out to large groups of people with news and announcements—but more importantly, it is a way of creating a sense of community. The University’s frequent use of social media allows easy interaction with students and alumni, and fosters a sense of a unity—a virtual BC family. Having a variety of accounts for different departments and aspects of the University allows students and alumni to customize their social media involvement, gathering news and announcements from departments that they are specifically interested in. The Heights commends the work of the SMC and encourages more students and administrators to engage actively in social media—doing so serves to inform both the students of important announcements and decisions, and the administration of the concerns of students.

With that being said, there is an area of social media with less consistency and a much less positive reputation at BC—the social media presence of BC student-athletes. Recent tweets by soccer forward Stephanie McCaffrey that joked about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University was an extreme case that resulted in her suspension from the team, but the general policy for student-athlete conduct is not entirely clear. Currently, head coaches of each sport are put in charge of creating rules that are consistent with individual team philosophies, according to Chris Cameron, associate athletic director of media relations. For example, men’s basketball athletes are not allowed to have Twitter accounts and baseball players are not allowed to tweet during the season.

The Heights believes it is important that the University establishes a policy on social media that is consistent across all sports. Specifically, The Heights believes that student-athletes should always have the right to social media accounts, including Twitter, if they so desire. It is often said that student-athletes are students first and athletes second. The University would not take away the right of a non-athlete to tweet, so it should not take away that same right of a student-athlete. The Heights understands that athletes are often higher profile representatives of the University than non-athletes, but they should be responsible enough to make decisions on their own about what is and what is not appropriate to post online. Furthermore, The Heights believes that there should be a level of trust between coaches and their athletes that would permit student-athletes to have a presence on social media. If a coach cannot trust his or her athletes not to tweet inappropriate or embarrassing things, how can they trust them during crunch time, or more importantly, not to embarrass the team and the University in other, more damaging ways?

Still, there should be a standard of conduct for student-athletes on social media, and student-athletes should be held responsible for violations of those standards. Being a student-athlete is certainly a privilege that comes with a higher level of responsibility than that of non-athletes. Recently, the athletic department distributed cards to athletes with tips of what and what not to do on Twitter. This is a step in the right direction. Informing student-athletes of what is acceptable allows the athletics department to hold athletes responsible if they violate those standards, and serves to educate them on how to conduct themselves online. Preventing student-athletes from having social media accounts at all, however, is essentially treating them like children by implying that they are not mature enough to make responsible decisions on their own.

Allowing and encouraging the presence of all student-athletes on Twitter could have an immensely positive effect on BC athletics. Fans of teams enjoy following athletes because it allows them to interact personally with athletes and see how players are feeling before and after games. As an institution, BC has done a great job of facilitating a sense of community through social media. The Heights hopes that head coaches realize that their student-athletes should have the opportunity to do the same.

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