Collegiate athletic programs across the country are weighing the pros and cons of allowing student-athletes to use Twitter and other social media websites. Some critics are even calling for a NCAA-wide ban against such media.
In 2011, respected universities such as UCLA, Mississippi State and Syracuse have learned the damaging effects that come with athletes’ misuse of social media. This led many coaches and athletics directors to implement a set of ground rules or ban their use altogether.
Cal Poly athletics director Don Oberhelman started his Twitter account @TheMustangWay late last year, and said the athletics department as a whole does not have a policy in place.
“It’s really up to each coach and each program,” Oberhelman said. “For them, the primary culprit is Facebook.”
He said Cal Poly athletes are not using social media for self-promotion. Rather, they use it like any other student would: to keep in touch with friends and family or tell people about themselves.
Since he is new to Twitter, Oberhelman recommended the basics: watch your language, make your profile private and do not allow yourself to be tagged in incriminating photos.
“We have many coaches that require (athletes) to be (their) friends on Facebook so they can, I don’t want to say monitor it, but to just occasionally look at it and see what’s out there,” Oberhelman said.
In the days following the men’s basketball team’s Nov. 19 victory at USC, Oberhelman found out just how tricky posting online can be.
During the game, he Tweeted:
Although the comment was not removed from his account — a tactic many athletes use once their comment has been critiqued — Oberhelman said he needs to be more careful about what he says.
“The Larry, Moe and Curley thing probably shouldn’t have been done,” Oberhelman said. “I was having a little fun at their expense, but I’m also the athletics director, and I can be reprimanded for public criticism of officials and criticizing other programs and teams. I always want to keep it positive and light, but I want it to be fun.”
Currently, Oberhelman leaves the decision of the extent to which Cal Poly’s student-athletes are allowed to use social media up to each individual coach because the university has not had a problem with it yet.
He said Cal Poly’s student-athletes are bright enough to monitor what they post online themselves, but if a situation were to arise that required disciplinary action, the proper steps would be taken.
“You have to apologize if something comes out that you don’t want to, but that’s on me to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Oberhelman said. “I think I’ll go out of my way to make sure that doesn’t happen. If I have to apologize for something, then I haven’t represented Cal Poly the way I should.”
Head men’s basketball coach Joe Callero is the most experienced “Tweeter” among Cal Poly’s athletics programs, and has helped Oberhelman become accustomed to all its benefits and drawbacks.
Despite having more than 800 followers on his profile — @CoachCallero — Callero admitted he is too “vanilla” with his posts. He said there is a moment in between typing what he wants to say and clicking the submit button that every Tweeter should be conscious of.
“I think very carefully about every single Tweet,” Callero said. “I spend five minutes with an idea and five minutes before I push the button.”
If social media has proven anything since its inception, it is that not everybody has Callero’s foresight.
He said his Tweets generally consist of shout-outs to players, updates regarding injuries and travel schedules, and insight into his everyday life. However, he said he intends to branch out with his posts by incorporating video, pictures, hyperlinks and more diverse content.
“I probably should learn to personalize things a little bit more,” Callero said. “The best feedback I got was when I talked about the end of Entourage. I stated something like, ‘How come everybody got their girl but Turtle?’”
While these types of comments appeal to a larger spectrum of followers, there is a fine line that can be crossed with one ill-advised post.
New York Giants wide receiver and Cal Poly alumni Ramses Barden has been in the NFL for nearly three seasons. He was in the unique position of being both a student-athlete and a professional athlete during Twitter’s evolution.
Barden said he tries to stay as politically correct as possible with his Tweets on @RamsesNYG because the league can fine players for posting anything on social media an hour-and-a-half prior to kickoff and during games. More importantly, he monitors the content of what he posts based on his own morals.
“My benchmark is: How would I feel if my mom read this, or my aunt, or my grandma or my pops?” Barden said.
However, at the college level, he said he fully endorses “trash talking” among players and encourages Cal Poly athletes to have fun with it.
“I don’t think you should really try to put a muzzle on people’s ideas and thoughts,” Barden said. “As long as people aren’t doing anything discriminatory or with harmful intentions — things of that nature — I think you should pretty much be free to express yourself how you see fit.”