Written by Jon Machota
Football coaches must stay on guard for players' risky tweets, posts
Joe McBride decided July 3 that it was time to send a message. Displeased with how some of his players were using websites such as Twitter and Facebook, Coppell’s football coach turned to social media to warn his players.
McBride tweeted: “Amazed I have players who think they can say pathetic stuff in social media and think I’ll not know or find out!”
McBride declined to include details but said he read posts that were “a little out of character.”
“Kids don’t think past one thought,” McBride explained.
With their popularity growing rapidly, social media have become the newest and arguably toughest opponent for high school and college coaches.
An inappropriate conversation once shared only in the locker room has turned into a message posted online, presented for hundreds, if not thousands, to read and repost. Coaches are left scrambling to identify a remedy so their players don’t suffer the same consequences as Yuri Wright.
In January, Wright, one of the top cornerback prospects in the country, was expelled from Don Bosco Prep School in New Jersey for sexually graphic tweets posted to his personal Twitter account. According to multiple reports, the University of Michigan was recruiting Wright at the time but removed his scholarship offer because of the incident.
Teaching a lesson
Wright’s punishment was one of the more severe connected with inappropriate use of social media. Area high school coaches said they haven’t had to take disciplinary measures to that level.
Skyline coach Reginald Samples learned of the negative impact of social media last year when Peter Jinkens, a standout at Skyline and now a linebacker at the University of Texas, posted inappropriate tweets caught by the Texas coaching staff that was recruiting him. Texas coach Mack Brown called Samples to warn him of Jinkens’ posts.
“I never would have realized it, until I saw it myself,” Samples said. “And I couldn’t believe it.”
Euless Trinity football coach Steve Lineweaver said one of his players, who is no longer at the school, used Twitter to direct vulgar language at a rival school. Lineweaver said he took the matter to the school principal, but “the school said they could not discipline on something like that.”
Free speech laws prevent coaches from banning athletes from posting, but a player looking for playing time is unlikely to go against a coach’s rules.
Several area high school football coaches are trying to use inappropriate posts as a teaching tool. Their preference is to sit down with the student and explain why he shouldn’t be posting the material, and usually they inform the parents.
However, it’s possible that repeat offenders could lose playing time. Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire said that “without a doubt,” a repeat offender could risk being kicked off the team.
“If they’re not going to listen to you on that, then they’re going to have a hard time playing anyway,” McGuire said. “It’s my job to win football games, but it’s also my job to help these guys become better men.”
The alternative to educating athletes through their mistakes is banning the use of social media completely.
Last month, Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher banned his team from using Twitter for the 2012 season. That reaction was heavily triggered by a post by one of his players that mentioned the killing of police officers.
Watching their posts
Before a recruit arrives on campus, SMU’s compliance staff searches that athlete’s profile in an attempt to find something mildly embarrassing. A staff member then prints out the material and shows the player how easy it was to access without being a friend on Facebook or follower on Twitter.
The problem has grown so quickly at the collegiate level that many local universities have hired a third-party company to monitor posts by their student-athletes.
UDiligence, which monitors several college athletic programs across the county, including the football teams at Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, is paid by schools to search from keyword lists provided by compliance offices. The software searches for inappropriate posts that use profanity, racial slurs, sexual connotations and mentions of weapons, drugs and alcohol. It can be customized to search for names and key words regarding opponents for the upcoming season or the mention of impermissible benefits.
When a post has been flagged, an email alert is sent to the player and the coach or administrator in charge of monitoring at the school. Posts are not deleted.
“It’s amazing to see the volume of hits we get,” UDiligence CEO Kevin Long said. “We’re not talking one or two a day per person, we’re talking dozens to hundreds a day.”
UDiligence has been contacted by some high schools but doesn’t have any as clients. UDiligence charges $1 per month per athlete it monitors with a minimum fee of $1,500 a year.
When Long started the company in 2008, MySpace represented 80 percent of the accounts monitored. Facebook represented the majority from 2009 to 2011, but Twitter has quickly become the leader, currently representing 75 percent of the posts flagged by UDiligence.
High schools don’t have the resources to monitor the way that a university can. Mesquite Poteet coach Randy Jackson says he’s looking into hiring a third-party monitoring company if the cost is reasonable.
Problems for coaches
According to multiple compliance representatives at local universities, the way schools monitored social media changed in 2010 when the University of North Carolina was investigated by the NCAA for rules violations. Tar Heels defensive lineman Marvin Austin kick-started the investigation after tweeting in May 2010 about bottles of alcohol he was receiving while partying at a Miami nightclub.
Since then, the NCAA says it has allowed schools to determine if they want to monitor social networking sites. However, the NCAA also says it can use the information found on those sites for enforcement staff investigations.
Baylor’s Art Briles, Texas’ Brown, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville said at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas that they’ve had problems with the way some of their players have used social media.
“Just like family, you’re trying to teach them something bigger than themselves, trying to say ‘we’ instead of ‘I,’ and Twitter is an ‘I’ thing,” Patterson said.
Of the Big 12 coaches interviewed, none said he has considered banning his entire team from Twitter. Only Stoops said he’d consider banning individual players if their social media posts got out of hand.
Tweeting song lyrics has been arguably the biggest problem at the high school and collegiate level. An athlete will post a lyric that his or her friends may identify, but outsiders might think it’s a direct thought from that player. That turned out to be the case with Austin’s nightclub tweet and the post by the Florida State player.
When describing what topics the Texas football team monitors, Brown mentioned drugs, guns, sex, vulgar language and inappropriate comments about race. He quickly added: “That cuts out a lot of their songs.”
Another problem involves fans tweeting recruits to try to get them to commit to their school. According to the NCAA, this is a violation but one that will not affect the eligibility of the athlete.
ESPN.com reported that Sealy’s Ricky Seals-Jones, the No. 1-ranked wide receiver recruit in the nation, got death threats via Twitter after he withdrew his commitment from Texas.
“When I committed, some fans didn’t like that, so they went kind of crazy, calling me names,” said Skyline wide receiver Ra’Shaad Samples, who committed to Oklahoma State. “You just got to take the good with the bad.”
Several top high school football players in the area have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Because they’re being recruited by major universities, many have more than a thousand followers. An inappropriate post goes beyond local impact. It’s an embarrassment for universities offering scholarships and is message-board fuel for fan bases at rival schools.
“You got to be careful what you write on Twitter because everyone can see, especially when you’re a high-profile athlete,” Ra’Shaad Samples said. “I try to be cautious. Sometimes I’m not cautious enough.”
Social media allow athletes quick contact with friends, fans, college coaches and other players. But even those conversations can come with a negative reaction if the comments are inappropriate.
“I think the best thing you can do is just work with them on character, and hopefully that comes off into their walk in life,” Lineweaver said. “The common sense has got to come in there sometime. Hopefully we can make inroads on them making good decisions.
“We want them to talk on Twitter or Facebook as if Coach is in there all the time. Even better than that, speak on that as if Mother is in the room.”
Staff writer Corbett Smith contributed to this report.
Devante Kincade, QB, Skyline
Kincade, who is orally committed to Mississippi, is on Twitter and Facebook. He said his high school coaches, as well as college coaches recruiting him, have talked about being cautious with his posts.
“It really makes you think twice about it. You really can’t just tweet anything, even if you’re just playing. People could post it somewhere else. You just never know. If you ain’t got nothing good to say, don’t post it anywhere, because once it’s on the Internet, it’s on there [for good].”
Ranthony Texada, CB, Frisco Centennial
Texada, who is orally committed to TCU, is on Twitter and Facebook.
“I think it’s what you make out of it. It allows me to stay connected with friends that I don’t see that often and allows me to keep up with recruiting. You got to be aware of what you post and know that one wrong post can turn out bad. I don’t put anything on there that I wouldn’t want my parents to see.”
HIGH SCHOOL COACHES
Reginald Samples, Skyline
“It’s a constant reminder now. Just like we talk about academics and discipline, now we talk about social media. It can be a problem. I’ve seen it to where our kids get so vocal with other schools, they start talking about, ‘Meet me at the bowling alley.’ And then it becomes a fight, or a problem. And you don’t need that over conversation.”
Claude Mathis, DeSoto
“Twitter and Facebook really hurts these kids, because I don’t think these kids are educated enough to stay off Twitter and Facebook. If they’re going to be negative, it’s going to hurt them in the recruiting process.”
Hal Wasson, Southlake Carroll
“I need to be more technology-literate. I’m kind of old-school when it comes to technology. But I’ll tell you what, if you’re not adapting, and don’t have a plan for it, you’re going to get left behind. In our program we do have a plan, and it’s pretty simple. We try to educate our kids on how to handle themselves.”
Randy Jackson, Mesquite Poteet
“It’s scary. We do the best we can, but you just can’t control everything. We had a time in the spring where we looked at every kid’s Facebook page. There’s things they put on Facebook that you can’t get back. It’s one of those things that’s kind of the new frontier that we’re trying to figure out how to monitor a little bit better. It’s something that I think is going to cause people a lot of headaches before we figure it out.”
Mack Brown, Texas
“The coaches are trying to get me on Twitter, so I got on this summer. So here I am thinking, one mistake and it’s across the world. You can make a whole state mad in about 13 seconds. Before, you had to make a lot of people mad before you could get a whole state. You can do it fast now.”
Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Tuberville is on Twitter and tweets sometimes three times a day.
“There’s going to be more than tweeting in a couple years. They add something all the time with technology. I’m not going to try to keep up with it and ban it. Kids have to be smart. You got to educate them in that as well as you do in English and math and science, what you do and what you don’t do. You got to be self-responsible. I’m shocked at why can’t an 18-, 21-year-old be responsible for their phone they use. They just have to be taught the right way. Of course you’re going to have problems. Everybody’s going to have problems.”
Art Briles, Baylor
“A lot of times, kids don’t think this is going worldwide and how some people may view it. What they think is a joke could be cruel to other people. That’s the hardest part to get across to them.”