We assume that most colleges and universities have the same goals when it comes to student-athletes and social media. Most likely they include:
- Raising the profile of the program
- Assisting in recruiting high school athletes
- Enhancing the feeling of community among fans and alumni
- Allowing athletes some measure of free speech
Our research shows that many schools do not have a written policy in place that clearly articulates what is permitted, what is prohibited and why, when it comes to athletes and online activities. The reason for having such a policy in writing and clearly communicated is fairly straightforward – make sure that students know the rules so that they will not unknowingly cast the school in a bad light or cause a problems for themselves.
This week we came across a very clear student-athlete social media policy, from Henderson State University in Arkansas. As follows are the highlights, with some brief comments from us:
“Playing and competing for the Henderson State University is a privilege. Student‐ athletes at HSU are held in the highest regard and are seen as role models in the community. As leaders you have the responsibility to portray your team, your University and yourselves in a positive manner at all times.”
Go team. The team mission statement extends to individual online activity.
“Student‐athletes should be aware that third parties ‐ including the media, faculty, future employers and NCAA officials ‐ could easily access your profiles and view all personal information. This includes all pictures, videos, comments and posters. Inappropriate material found by third parties affects the perception of the student‐athlete, the athletic department and the University. This can also be detrimental to a student‐athlete’s future employment options, whether in professional sports or in other industries.”
Not only does the policy touch on the schools concerns, but also the impact that online activity could have on the students’ future prospects.
“Examples of inappropriate and offensive behaviors concerning participation in online communities may include depictions or presentations of the following:
- Photos, videos, comments or posters showing the personal use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco e.g., no holding cups, cans, shot glasses etc.
- 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 GAC 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 HSU 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).”
That is a very broad set of prohibited activities. Students are officially on warning.
“If a student‐athlete’s profile and its contents are found to be inappropriate in accordance with the above behaviors, he/she will be subject to the following penalties:
A meeting with Director of Athletics and Head Coach
Penalties as determined by the athletic department, which could include the following: suspension from his/her athletic team, scholarship reduction, removal from his/her team.”
A clear articulation of the potential penalties is essential, and they have it right here.
For your own safety, please keep the following recommendations in mind as you participate in social media websites:
- Set your security settings so that only your friends can view your profile.
- You should not post your email, home address, local address, telephone
- number(s), or other personal information as it could lead to unwanted attention, stalking, identity theft, etc.
- Be aware of who you add as a friend to your site – many people are looking to take advantage of student‐athletes or to seek connection with student‐athletes.
Finally, they discuss exactly how student-athletes keep themselves on the right side of the rules and at the same time safe.
“If you are ever in doubt of the appropriateness of your online public material, consider whether it upholds and positively reflects your own values and ethics as well as the HSU Athletic Department’s and the University’s. Remember, always present a positive image and don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, the team, your family or the University.”
Well done, Henderson State.
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