A football game inflicts bumps, bruises and pain on many of its participants, but there is another "game" which offers similar trappings without the physical abuse: the game of social media.
Social media is woven into the fabric and culture of American life. But it also poses potential pitfalls to a high school student-athlete already trying to balance books and the ball. To be sure, social media or social networking provides a platform where players can connect with fans and share not only their exploits on the field but their personal lives as well. But a high school athlete needs to be educated on proper social etiquette when posting on sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. One ill-advised "Tweet" or Facebook status update could result in game suspension, suspension from the team, or even loss of a college athletic scholarship.
Think it can't happen to your child? Consider the case of Yuri Wright, a senior star football player from Bosco Prep High School, a Roman Catholic secondary school in Ramsay, New Jersey with a nationally recognized football program. Wright was recently expelled from school and lost a scholarship to play for the University of Michigan because of some racially charged and sexually explicit tweets he allegedly sent.
When using social media, student-athletes need to remember that freedom of speech is not the same thing as the freedom to say anything. Once a post is made on a social networking site, it is considered public information. You cannot say or post anything without repercussions. Yuri Wright found that out the hard way.
If your child is a high school football player, or athlete in any high school sport, they need to need more to survive these days than just talent and good grades; they need to be Internet- and social media savvy. If a college is willing to offer a scholarship, they want to be certain that they are investing in a player who will not only deliver on the football field and in the classroom, but will also represent their school in the best possible way. This is the primary reason that college coaches and athletic departments monitor a future prospect's social media habits. Poor social media skills can put a wrecking ball to a player's scholarship dreams. Those dreams can be realized through education and by using common sense.
As a parent, you need to remind your student-athlete that, not only do they represent their high school, but their community as well. Discretion is of utmost importance. Playing for a high school team, regardless of the sport, is a privilege, not a right. It takes a ton of dedication, skill and hard-work to not only play and practice football but also handle a regular school workload. If it is your child's intent to capitalize on their athletic talent to gain a scholarship or admission to the school of their choice, why waste everything on a careless tweet or post? Many players spend years developing a positive reputation and self-image; make sure your son or daughter's online reputation is one they can be proud of as well.
Social media playbook
After reading about Yuri Wright I recently wrote a blog for my website hoping to connect with student-athletes in order to help them avoid traveling down a similar road. I also created a Social Media Playbook. The playbook outlines the Top 10 things every player should consider before posting on Facebook or Tweeting on Twitter. Is it the definitive outline? No, it is simply a guideline for a player to follow to insure better online habits.
So here are what I consider to be the Top 10 points in developing a positive online reputation that compliments a player's athletic and academic abilities:
- Think before you post. A simple piece of advice, but the most important. Any expression of anger or passion should be a clear indication that your child should take a step back, clear their head and delay posting or tweeting until they are calm and thinking in a clear, rational manner.
- Could they share it with their grandmother? An athlete should only post thoughts and pictures that they would feel comfortable sharing with of a large group of people they might not know. They should also feel comfortable sharing the post with family, friends and neighbors.
- Err on the side of caution. If content cannot be shared comfortably in a face-to-face conversation or a telephone call, it most likely would not pass muster as acceptable on any social media site.
- Be respectful. Be respectful of those who might view the post. Although your child has the freedom and the right to post, it comes with responsibilities. Language, slurs, racial or posts with religious overtones - anything that would reflect poorly on your child, his team, school or community - should be avoided. Do not promote hate.
- Protect their identity. Have your child set up a separate email address to use for social media networking. Avoid giving out personal information, such as phone numbers, date of birth, home address, etc. Otherwise, they could be opening themselves up to predators or identity theft.
- Comply with copyright laws. Make sure that they have permission to post an image that is not theirs before putting it out on the Internet. We live in a litigious society and copyright infringement is something to be avoided. As their parent, you may be personally liable for any copyright violations committed, such as posting photographs, audio, or video that is not their personal property.
- Watch out when re-Tweeting, reposting, sharing, and "liking": Just as profanity, sexually explicit content, or engaging in hate speech or cyberbullying in one's own Tweets or posts is a no-no, it isn't somehow okay if your child shares it by re-tweeting or liking it.
- Watch out what pictures are posted. Make sure your child is smiling in their avatar or background picture, and that they don't post photographs that cast them in a poor or questionable light. They need to remember they are selling themselves and have a chance to create an initial good impression with a future coach, admissions director or recruiter, an opportunity which shouldn't be wasted and, without discretion, can go horribly wrong.
- Avoid game-related tweets or posts on game day. It should be a habit and could make life and in-game situations a little easier. Your child's teammates will appreciate it as well.
- Check spelling, grammar and word usage. If your child cannot spell a word or does not understand its meaning or proper usage, they should look up the word and its meaning and usage. If they aren't willing to do the extra leg work, they shouldn't use it in a post. Misspelled words or words used improperly tell the world a lot more than they may realize.
Tim Winters is real estate sales and marketing consultant from Waxhaw, North Carolina. He has given thousands of presentations to REALTORS® on the benefits of sales and marketing automation, social media and blogging. Tim's passion for and experience in sports led him to start a website focusing on high school football in Union County, North Carolina, which will soon to be expanding to cover and promote all high school sports in the county.