The power and importance of social media in sports was made transparently clear during the 2014 World Cup. But it doesn’t take an international sporting event to demonstrate how seriously social media is taken. St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, the same high school that produced the Crimson Tide quarterbacks Jake Coker and AJ McCarron, now has another preseason qualifier for players: social media profiles.
Besides just minding their online manners, coach Steve Mask strongly counsels players against social media postings regarding injuries, which can discourage recruiters. Another major faux pas is committing to schools via Twitter before official announcements, as it can damage a player’s reputation. Case in point: a former player, who had apparently tweeted commitments to several different schools, had not actually informed any of the coaches. “He came across as being not reliable,” Mask said. “He gets a little joy out of the attention, but it's not worth it.”
In fact, Mask takes the online personas of his team with such seriousness, that he is assigning one of his assistants to monitor his players’ accounts. Seeing as how college programs are only increasing their use of social media accounts to evaluate a player’s character, Mask’s move hardly seems ludicrous.
A recent case at Penn State demonstrated that one wrong post or comment can cost a student major offers. Herb Hand, an offensive line coach at Penn State, posted the following tweet:
Although the tone of the tweet may have seemed a little cruel, it was alas, fair. “You want to recruit guys with strong character,” Hand said. Not guys who are more concerned with being characters.
While some might argue that it is just kids being kids and posting some of the darnest things, Hand, along with other coaches says it is often pretty easy to tell when someone posts something cringe-inducing (like a secret ilumanatee tatoo), and when someone has a profile that raises a major red flag. “There's a difference though when you're talking about information that may be degrading to women, referencing drug use, and anything that has to do with cyberbullying and stuff like that. There's certain things you don't want to be part of your program,” Hand said.
Hand is not the only coach known for cutting off players due to social media. Other coaches have also admitted to the importance of social media when evaluating players. Bret Bielema, a coach at Arkansas, says that social media is now a standard part of the recruitment process. “He's got to have a GPA that I can relate to, an ACT or SAT score or a pre-ACT score, and the third box is for social media.” Bielma recalls how one player’s Twitter profile cost that player his spot: “I distinctly remember a player last year who signed, was a big-time kid, had an interest in us, and his Twitter handle was something that I can't repeat in here. I just kind of said, what are we doing here? This is about as obvious as it gets about what kind of thing we're dealing with here, so we backed out altogether.”
It is hard to ignore what an overwhelming attribute social media is to today’s society. The gravity with which social media accounts are handled in the sports world is a warning to all users everywhere: be careful what you post. You never know who will be viewing your profiles, and you never know the consequences until it is too late. Of course, you can always take the extra precaution, like Mask, and have someone else help you monitor your social media profiles. Regardless of whether the consequence is losing your job, or losing a scholarship, it is always better to be safe than sorry, especially regarding social media.