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Twitter Education: The Responsibility of a University to Prepare its Athletes

The following is a guest contribution from Heather Brittany (@HeatherBrit).  Heather is currently a law student at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and Sports Chair of its Entertainment & Sports Law Society.

The internet is littered with stories of university coaches banning their players from tweeting.  Most recently, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier joined the ranks of the tweeting ban.  Spurrier said, “Well, we have some dumb, immature players that put crap on their Twitter, and we don’t need that.  So the best thing to do is just ban it.”  Really?  As I tweeted on Thursday, banning Twitter works as well as teaching abstinence.  A parent may be able to control her child’s actions while the child is still under her close watch, however as soon as this child gets the opportunity, chances are that the individual will subdue to her hormones.  Suddenly, your child is Bristol Palin.

Now, I am not saying that every collegiate athlete who is banned from Twitter is going to go pro and ruin his/her career the first time he/she tweets, but I am saying (just as public schools across the nation have learned and implemented through sex ed) that education on the dangers of participating in such an activity, on preventative measures, on protecting yourself and those around you, will prove more beneficial then simply teaching “Don’t do it.”

The ban on Twitter is an attempt to not address the problem – to not educate and develop their team.  Because, after all, that takes time and money, and what university has either of those?  The truth of the matter is coaches (and/or athletic departments) should have their athletes’ education as their number one priority.  They are “student-athletes,” with the “emphasis” being on student first, right?

Gregg Doyel wrote an article today for titled, “Coaches’ Twitter ban isn’t stunting players, it’s protecting them.”  He suggests that “In the wrong hands, twitter is a dangerous thing.  And a college athlete’s hands are awful.”  Doyel points to such examples as a tweet posted last year by North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin. Austin tweeted pictures of him enjoying a lavish vacation in South Beach, which may have catapulted the investigation (as well as the firing of Butch Davis) into the program.  Doyel concedes that “Twitter isn’t to blame for the offenses — but Twitter got North Carolina busted.”

Again, we see a huge discrepancy in the education of collegiate athletes.  Doyel’s point emphasizes what the NCAA has seemingly accepted, dare I say encouraged, what I will dub the “Jim Tressel.”  If you are doing something wrong/illegal/against the NCAA, Jim Tressel it immediately.  Do not own up to your improprieties, do not learn from them, and definitely do not figure out how to avoid the negative situation again.  Just cover it up and lie.  The problem with Twitter, is that once you have tweeted a picture, well, let’s just say it’s going to take more work then a “My Twitter got hacked” story to cover up your actions.

The real reason coaches are banning Twitter is not for the “player’s protection,” but rather to protect the program.  As Dan Patrick stated while reporting the Spurrier story, “Will it help us [win]? … No.  Can it hurt us?  Yes.”  Listen, I understand and value the need to protect the program as a whole.  Furthermore, I GET that the actions of just ONE player can irreparably damage an athletic program.  However, I do not believe that the best way to protect the player and to protect the program is to strip the players of their ability to tweet.  (Note: I am not even going to address the notion that players may choose to attend a university based on whether or not they are able to tweet because I do not believe that issue is even close to the core problem with the ban.)

Gregg Doyel continues in his agreement with a coach banning Twitter saying, “A couch isn’t limiting his players’ personal growth… Players have plenty of chances to grow as people in college.  Classes, interview sessions.  Public appearances.”  Oh, but not through Twitter.  So you’re allowing your players to do some things (those which you can control), but not others.  In a world where proper Twitter usage is almost as valuable as tackling techniques for a professional football player, I am having a hard time understanding how the ban is not the definition of “limiting.”

Last, the NCAA has stripped nearly every promotional right of the collegiate athlete.  These players work endless hours to perform at their highest ability in order to bring their team a victory.  They have no rights to their name, likeness, number, or anything that they do during their college career.  They are unable to even be taken out to dinner by an agent who wants to inform them of their future career options.

I will not equate these athletes to slaves (as a recent South Park episode did) because I do believe in the value of a free education.  However, the system is nothing short of flawed.  These players bring in billions of dollars annually to the universities that they play for.  These universities stress the fact that these players are “student-athletes,” and emphasize the “value” of the education that their athletes are receiving.  The truth of the matter is that what is a valuable education for me (an aspiring attorney) is drastically different from that of Matt Barkely (an aspiring NFL quarterback).

Universities need to enact programs centered on their athletes.  If you are going to stress the importance of education, then realize what kind of education would truly benefit your players.  Athletic departments need to create programs that are specifically directed at the student-athlete.  Teach them the proper way of dealing with the media.  Warn your players of the detrimental effects of posting false, negative, or simply unnecessary information to the internet.  There are social media professionals who teach these skills as a career.  Find these people.  Hire them.  Spend money on your athletes who bring in billions of dollars for your university.  Equip them with the tools they need to succeed professionally.  After all, isn’t that the purpose of the collegiate institution?

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

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