Saturday, May 3, 2008

College athletes deal with MySpace, Facebook

Facebook and MySpace are two social networking sites that almost every college student is familiar with. We both have accounts with the sites and actively use them. The reasons why we have profiles are to keep us connected with friends and most importantly, it’s fun. The sites allow us to see personalities of our friends and get to know more about them. Today, with the help of these sites, we are also able to hear news about people and events, updates on friends, get information about the current political race and hear about new movies and music all on these sites. As students, and Galo, as an athlete, have to be cautious with what is posted and what the information on each site is revealed because you never know who could be reading it.

Anything that can be written, indirectly said or visually understood could be taken the wrong way or be shown in a negative light. Albums posted that display pictures last weekend’s party or a message that discriminates against pupils or even personal moods can all give a sense of student-athlete that is fine for most but it could object others. The way someone is perceived online today is what people take you for many times in real life, especially for college student-athletes.

They have to be cautious not only for there own appearance and for the reputation of the school, but they have to be aware of the repercussions of having fans and what they may do as a result of athletes having a social networking site profile.

In his article “Vulgarity and taunting by college fans. How much is too much?” published on Feb. 26 in Sports Illustrated, writer Grant Wahl touches on the subject of college basketball athletes and the negative interaction with fans through Facebook.

“It seemed like this year had been on of the ugliest years with fan behavior,” Wahl said.

In his article he mentions an incident with an Indiana player who changed his commitment from playing at Illinois and choosing Indiana instead which sparked threatening messages not only through e-mail, but on the athlete’s Facebook profile.

“What's more, the popularity of social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace has made college athletes and their personal information far more accessible to the public, especially if the athletes are naive when it comes to, say, posting compromising photos of themselves or accepting friend requests from strangers,” Wahl said in his article.

Wahl said in our interview that through these social networking sites, the athletes are opening themselves up on a personal level to strangers and the unruly fans.

As for fixing the problem, Wahl said a solution is the education of the student-athletes by their schools, which some schools have done.

“Athletes will get smarter,” Wahl said.

As for regulating the use of these sites, it seems like each school will make their own policies rather than the NCAA creating a policy, Wahl said.

“In this case, I think they (NCAA) will leave it up to the individual schools," Wahl said.

The use of these social networking sites is widespread among most, maybe even all universities and colleges throughout the nation, and even internationally. They are popular, and students use them for various reasons.

“I think this is just a part of life with college students,” Wahl said.

So why has something that is a part of college life become negative? For us, we have concluded that it is up to the discretion of the users. Putting information about your life is up to the author, but there also has to be a realization that for anyone, not just college athletes, the information is opening a door for potential negativity and danger.

These possible dangers are what has many schools across the nation worried and what San Diego Union Tribune writer Brent Schrotenboer explains is part of the reason why these athletes get in trouble with these networking Web sites. Schrotenboer has covered this story in his own article, “College Athletes Caught in Tangled Web,” which was published May 24, 2006.

“(College) athletes are in the public eye more in the average student,” Schrotenboer said in an e-mail interview. “Universities also want to protect them from unwanted advances from strangers or would-be agents, which are easier to do in the digital with these social networking sites.”

He also believes that universities and colleges will continue to track the situation with their athletes to ensure some kind of control over what is exposed online.

“Schools that want to avoid being reactive to a potentially embarrassing situation try to be proactive by setting a policy that either limits or bans student-athlete use of these sites,” Schrotenboer said.

Marco Pineda, a former Division I student-athlete at Gonzaga University, said that he was always told to be aware of what he posts and writes on his online profiles.

“There were a lot of times I was told to not post things that are related to alcohol or drug use,” Pineda said, who played tennis and now coaches at Gonzaga. “Just being pictured at parties and things go on behind you could make a connection to you.”

Pineda believes athletes need to be conscious of what they allow to be visible on their profiles for their own safety and peace of mind.

“If there is something out there you don’t want anyone to see, don’t post it,” Pineda said, who also has both a Facebook and MySpace account. “College athletes are held to such higher standards by many so they are always being watched because they are in the spotlight.”

To remedy this situation, both Pineda and Schrotenboer offer ways for student-athletes and schools to protect themselves.

“I’d say the safest and fairest way is to set a policy warning student-athletes that if certain team policy violations are evidenced online, then they will be held accountable,” Schrotenboer said.

“There should be some restrictions and guidelines but every student-athlete should be able to have these accounts,” Pineda said.

From a legal perspective, experts believe that schools have every right to restrict their athletes from their involvement with social networking sites. Because of their pledge to be part of the team, they are not granted the same rights as other college students.

“As a general rule, (colleges and universities) are allowed to do restrict their student-athletes,” said Deborah Zexter, an attorney and part time instructor at the University of La Verne. “To be on the team and play for the school, they are allowed to give these types of restrictions.”

“It’s basic contract law,” said Justin Janzen, an attorney and also a part time instructor at La Verne. “When student-athletes sign the contract to be part of the team, it overrules the basic amendment laws.”

In the end, the best way these institutions can protect themselves and their student-athletes is to set a policy that is strict but still allows them to use these networking sites. It will be very difficult to get them to stop using it all together. With a signed contract or agreement, schools and athletes can both get what they want, which is decreasing the chance of embarrassment while still being accessible on these Web sites. Yet, every school and student-athlete is different, so the way cases may be handled will vary. However there is no doubt that is problem will continue to arise for colleges and universities and its athletes if there is nothing done to contain potential trouble for both parties involved.

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