Social Media and the College Athlete

August 26, 2011 Mississippi State dismissed freshman forward D.J. Gardner from the basketball program citing

“for repeated actions deemed detrimental to the team.”

This news came only hours after several vulgar tweets were posted to Gardener’s twitter account, which was deleted soon after.


This brings me to the question “should a college athlete’s actions on their personal social media accounts be held against them?”

Let’s face it, social media is everywhere today. Most everyone has uses it and it can be accessed in the palm of your hand from anywhere, at anytime. Social media can be a very powerful tool and needs to be used very carefully.

Some people may argue that his privacy was violated and that what he posts on social media shouldn’t be held against him and his athletic career. However Gardner is just one of many examples of college athletes that have had careers cut short because of stupid mistakes made via social media.

Examples of Social Media Mistakes Made by College Athletes

Bradley Patterson was a football player from the University of Northern Alabama and was dismissed from the team shortly after he tweeted about not caring for President Obama. His tweet was

“Take that n**** off the tv, we wanna watch football”

Needless to say his twitter account was also deactivated.

Cardale Jones was a football player for Ohio State University when he sent out this gem of a tweet…

Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.

He was sidelined for his next game his Twitter account was deleted.

Last but not least is Courtney Fortson, a basketball player from the University of Arkansas. His tweet-

I’m gettin it at workouts like a dude who doesn’t understand the word no from a drunk girl.

May not have been his smartest move right after several U of A students had been accused of rape. He was suspended indefinitely from the team.


While the NCAA doesn’t have any “set in stone” rules regarding social media use of current athletes, they do have rules regarding social media use in the context of recruiting. Some of those rules include no texting between coaches and recruits, no electronic transmittance via instant messaging through social media sites, and no posting on social media “walls” of recruits just to name a few.

In spite of having no set rules fro current student athletes, the NCAA recently suspended Lehigh’s Ryan Spadola for “retweeting” an allegedly inappropriate racial slur. The NCAA chose to make an example of the student-athlete, despite his apology.

In light of many recent events, including the Ryan Spadola incident, many schools are adopting their own social media policies. The following example is from the University of Southern California’s Student Athlete Social Media Policy:

• Photos, videos, and comments that are of a sexual nature. This includes links to websites of a pornographic nature and other inappropriate material.
• Pictures, videos, comments or posters that condone drug-related activity. This includes but is not limited to images that portray the personal use of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
• Content online that is unsportsmanlike, derogatory, demeaning or threatening toward any other individual or entity (examples: derogatory comments regarding another institution; taunting comments aimed at a student-athlete, coach or team at another institution and derogatory comments against race and/or gender). No posts should depict or encourage unacceptable, violent or illegal activities (examples: hazing, sexual harassment/assault, gambling, discrimination, fighting, vandalism, academic dishonesty, underage drinking, illegal drug use).
• Content online that would constitute a violation of Pac-12 or NCAA rules (examples: commenting publicly about a prospective student-athlete, providing information related to sports wagering activities; soliciting impermissible extra benefits).
• Information that is sensitive or personal in nature or is proprietary to the USC Athletic Department or the university, which is not public information (examples: tentative or future team schedules, student-athlete injuries and eligibility status, travel plans/itineraries or information).

Recruiting and Social Media

Brandon Chambers, a Marymount VA men’s basketball assistant, once tweeted

“Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship”

Recruits are being scrutinized more than ever on their social media usage and in the example below SMU coach Van Malone shows how a potential recruit is being monitored via his personal social media.


Another example of social media affecting recruiting is Yuri Wright. Yuri Wright, one of the best high school cornerbacks in the country, was recently expelled from his high school after sexual and racially offensive comments were made on his private Twitter account. Despite being “private,” this account had at least 1500 followers, all of whom could see the offending messages. As a result of the postings and expulsion, the University of Michigan stopped its recruiting efforts.

Now you can see how one tiny lapse in judgment can completely and totally alter the future of a student athlete. Is a tweet really worth it?

Personally I believe that everyone should watch what they say on social media. You never know who is watching what you say and do. Treat everything you put out there for the world to see like a potential job interview.

Would you really want your boss to see that you went out to the club drinking with your friends and drunk tweeted everything you did that night? Do you really want your personal relationship drama out there for people to see? Do you really want your extremely bad grammar skill on display? I really hope the answer is no to all of these questions.

Back to my original question, “should a college athlete’s actions on their personal social media accounts be held against them?” I really think it depends on the situation. If a college athlete has signed a social media policy saying outlining rules to follow ad one is broken then yes, they are in the wrong. However if they haven’t signed anything then I don’t think anything should be held against them.

What are your thoughts on college athletes and social media use?




8 thoughts on “Social Media and the College Athlete

  1. I’m not the most knowledge (or caring) about sports, but I still find the arguments presented in your article to be very interesting, especially the overarching issues involving privacy and public relations that high-profile people are subject to. I definitely agree that it isn’t worth damaging one’s future over something as stupid as what often amounts to “verbal diarrhea,” there’s also the existing question of whether celebrities should be held to higher standards.

    I’m reminded about the case presented in the video “This Is Phil Fish” (, made to look at the controversial reputation of game designer Philippe Poisson (a.k.a. “Phil Fish”), and his use of social media for ostensibly antagonistic reasons. Even though I tend to feel that Poisson’s words and actions reflect a terrible personality, I recognize the video’s argument that our tendency to put people on pedestals overlooks the notion that they’re just as flawed as us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, that second sentence should’ve been written as:

      “I definitely agree that it isn’t worth damaging one’s future over something as stupid as what often amounts to “verbal diarrhea,” *but* there’s also the existing question of whether *or not* celebrities should be held to higher standards.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are just so many issues related to privacy and ethical compliance on the web. I feel that people should be more considerate on the Web before posting certain things, and as far as celebrity standards go, I believe that the second you become a celebrity, you should be aware of the erect you have on younger and older individuals and you should defiantly become an appropriate role model. Becoming a good role model is just something that comes apart of being famous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nicely said! As many examples mentioned in your blog, I too rely on several scholarships to get me through school. Since the moment I had a social media account I was always told that whatever I post online with forever be online. This gave me enough fear for me to only want to post approximately 2-5 post on my Facebook every two months. It is not a lot in comparison to what several people post like on Twitter with hundreds per day! I think that incoming scholars should be very cautious as to what scholarship and school policies say about how you can be liable by the things that you do or say.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting topic! I am so very thankful that I did not have social media to broadcast with when I was very young, since I do think we should be held accountable for what we say in public, especially if it’s hurtful and even more so if you’re a public figure.

    I’m intrigued by your rule of thumb:Treat everything you put out there for the world to see like a potential job interview. And for the most part, I agree! Depending on the job for which you’re interviewing, this can help you maintain an appropriate tone for your curated persona online.

    One thing that bothers me about this, though, is the lack of space this leaves for creative expression and for expressing opinions that go against the mainstream. Perhaps social media just isn’t the appropriate venue for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It just blows the mind that folks can think like they do and then proceed to spew it all out of their mouths. It is difficult to understand how someone would even have a problem knowing the difference in acceptable and unacceptable regarding race, gender, etc., but that is a whole other Pandora’s Box. We have all said things that didn’t come out the way we intended, that we later regretted, or that gave a wrong impression of who we actually are, but . . . WOW!

    I couldn’t help but think that Courtney Fortson should have watched the video Matthew posted in his article “Internet Critics: Satire, Analysis, and Personas” by Doug Walker/Nostalgia Critic, Nostalgia Critic: When Does a Joke Go Too Far? I mean, he was trying to make a joke . . . right? Nostalgia Critic’s explanation of what makes a joke funny and not harmful was excellent and simple; it might have helped Fortson tremendously. All of these people would benefit from Erica’s “Code of Ethics” article!

    I was really surprised by your information that these organizations do not have specific standards regarding social media use. The NCAA and all sports organizations need to recognize that they need to take a unified stance and have a long-overdue, productive, meeting that defines, in unambiguous language and intent, some rules that all can follow.

    Also, some of the details in your article lead me to believe that the issue of monitoring is too subjective. Getting some clear rules in place would go a long way in helping everyone, especially the athletes, to determine what is and is not acceptable to post.

    If someone is having that much trouble policing themselves, or if organizations are unsure if something should warrant censorship, then it is obvious that communication rules between recruiters and players is not enough. Sending the message—and backing it up—to athletes and Management that everybody bears responsibility to maintain an ethical relationship with everybody else, not just recruiters and players, would help a lot; getting some rules and standards in a concrete form for reference, such as a written manifesto, is also crucial. And the sooner the better—Ugh!


  6. I truly think that people need to be careful about what they say on the internet. I agree with you-you never know who is watching and future employers may look at tweets and make judgements based off of them. Athletes are very visibie and should know better than to say reckless and irresponsible things on the internet. Another consideration is the herd mentality-how people can jump on the bandwagon and contribute to an athlete getting fired. This reminds me of the Ted Talk video, by Jon Ronson, in which he discussed internet mobs. How long should someone be punished for saying shameful things on the internet? That is a very important question.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really like this article. I’m sort of on the fence about whether recruits or players should be suspended or kicked off the team for being teenagers. That said, the remarks about President Obama and the U of A player’s tweet concerning consent should, at the very least, be addressed and those students should, I think, have to discuss these issues with psychologists or meet with groups who have experienced racism or rape.

    We expect more from these kids than we should because they have skill and talent that fans adore, thus making universities TONS of money. They do have pressure coming from all sides, and at 18 or 19 years old, that has to be difficult. Also, many kids don’t realize how horrible some of the things they put on social media are because of the culture in which they’ve grown up, unfortunately, or they just think something they post is hilarious. Many of the students who have sports scholarships might not be able to attend college without sports scholarships. I’ve had several students sign to specific universities and play sports with specific universities because it got them out of a bad situation or because they wanted the experience of living in a different city or state.

    Kids don’t have the same judgment abilities as adults most of the time, and their brains aren’t fully formed…. they don’t make the best judgment calls (definitely), and having taught them, I can say without a doubt that I’ve heard many students say some crazy mess over the ten years I’ve been teaching. I don’t think we should kick them off of a team for being insensitive, but I do think coaches, etc. should discuss with them why their comments are could be harmful or hurtful.

    That said… here’s two things…

    1. Thankfully, we didn’t have social media when I was in high school. I would have been kicked off multiple teams more quickly than one could say “pass.”

    2. I’ve seen more adults post stupid stuff than I have seen teenagers post. Most of the adults aren’t reprimanded by their employers, so are we saying that we expect more from a kid who has a mean jumpshot than we do, say, an adult who works in business or in the military or in a classroom? I’ve posted some pretty raw stuff (usually dealing with politics), and I’ve not been turned in (yet), although I’m sure it will happen at some point. And while I realize that teachers do not have freedom of speech on social media, are we now going to completely police everything an athlete says that we don’t like? The incidents that you’ve used are wonderful for arguing that these incidents should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s definitely food for thought, and I’m going to make sure my student athletes read this and we discuss it. Kudos.


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