Monday, September 26, 2011

The dangers of social networking

Social networking sites are scary for intercollegiate athletics programs.

We all know about the well publicized incidents of student-athletes getting into trouble for inappropriate Facebook content. Athletic administrators are struggling to find a solution to protect both their student-athletes and their institutions.

For some schools, the solution was to ban student-athletes from Facebook. Some schools appointed a staff member to monitor profiles. Some schools held the team captains responsible for overseeing their teammates.

Increasingly, schools are investing in the hiring of sports media trainers to educate student-athletes how to build a positive image of themselves in the media. While traditionally training focused on making student-athletes more comfortable in front of the camera and teaching them interviewing skills, now the training has to address issues that arise from participation in social networking sites.

The simplified message of the training regarding Facebook, or any other social networking site for that matter, is the famous “if you mother wouldn’t approve it, don’t do it.”

Does this strategy hit home?

It might; and let us hope, for the sake of the student-athletes and the school, that it does.

However, if we only point fingers at social networking sites, we are ignoring a much larger problem here. A prerequisite for “harmful” content is the actual happening of the event: for the person to be involved in a situation that is negatively affecting their reputation or the reputation of their school.

By blaming social media, we are focusing on just one tree when there is a whole forest out there.

The education of student-athletes should start with lessons of accountability and responsibility. Student-athletes need to learn, first and foremost, to respect themselves so that they avoid getting into potentially troubling situations.

The education should continue with teaching them to look out for each other. Student-athletes need to have a positive influence on each others' actions and to serve as gatekeepers (in other words, not to post compromising pictures of their own teammates on Facebook just because it’s funny).

This education should also involve reiterating to them the values of their university and their department of athletics. Student-athletes need to understand the broader mission of their university in order to know how to represent it well.

Only after that kind of education does it make sense to talk about the dangers of social networking. Here is why: if they do not understand the ramifications of their actions, student-athletes will not understand why it is “wrong” to post pictures of those actions on Facebook.

I truly believe that an 18-year-old individual is capable of seeing beyond the tree and understanding how college athletics function, which entails understanding the hard work invested into developing them as athletes, as students and as people.

Once that enlightening moment of "got it" occurs, we can move to beyond treating social media sites as the enemy of intercollegiate athletics and realize the potentials they carry for promotion, community building and development.

-- Dunja Antunovic

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