YORK, Pa. (AP) - It started as a joke. Years ago, Anthony Morgan used a Twitter name that he knew would make his friends laugh. And that’s how it stayed.
Just a kid in York having fun, he picked the user name to crack up his classmates at New Hope Academy. It didn’t hurt anyone.
That decision, however, seemed a lot more important during the college recruiting process. Morgan eventually went to McDaniel College to play, but one of the first things his college basketball coach said to him had to do with Twitter: Change your user name, and do it now.
“I had a Twitter name that was something really inappropriate,” Morgan said.
He was no longer getting laughs. Now he understands the blowback.
A coach at another school told Morgan they stopped pursuing him after finding out his Twitter name.
“He didn’t say he was going to offer me a scholarship, but I would have been (considered),” Morgan said.
Morgan said he listened when coaches or adults talked about appropriate behavior on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, but looking back now as a junior at Penn State Harrisburg, he realizes he didn’t take it seriously.
“Not everyone was on Twitter back then, and if your parents aren’t monitoring it - and most parents didn’t even know what Twitter was at that time - it’s like the world is yours,” Morgan said.
“It’s totally different for me now, I’m trying to be professional and watch what I say in every post because I’m looking for a job.”
Several recent high-profile cases emphasize the perils of social media.
Methacton High graduate Joey Casselberry tweeted from his account a derogatory comment about Little League World Series standout Mo’ne Davis on Friday, March 20. Within hours, Bloomsburg University had suspended Casselberry from its baseball team in a story that drew national attention.
Annville-Cleona athletic director Tommy Long noted: “I’d say this is another example of how important it is to remember you are not communicating solely with a friend on social media. … Your comments are available for millions to see.”
The situation at Bloomsburg University came less than a month after individuals tweeted sexual threats in reference to the 17-year-old daughter of former major league pitcher Curt Schilling. The offensive tweets began in response to Schilling’s tweet about where his daughter would attend college and play softball next season. Through simple Internet searches, Schilling learned the identities of two of the more vicious commenters and named them in his blog. As a result, one was fired from a part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees and another was suspended from his community college.
Social media also affected the local high school basketball playoffs.
On the eve of the District 3 Class AAAA boys’ basketball championship game against William Penn, Cedar Crest suspended three players and dismissed another from its team because of the content of a video uploaded to social media by one of the players.
“Students do not realize how quick a word, phrase or sentence can affect their future,” Lebanon athletic director Sam Elias wrote in an email. “Today’s students are so involved in all types of social media. They are not realizing at the moment of how their information is out there for many people to view. Right or wrong, locker room talk has now become public. I think some of the comments that are said in the social media today were said in a more confined environment years ago. It never reached the audience that technology does today.”
These types of case studies provide coaches and administrators with examples of what not to do, but schools vary in their social media policy approaches. Social media contracts are not universal, unlike the alcohol and tobacco contracts most schools require high school athletes to sign to participate in sports.
“We talk to our athletes and coaches about the choices they make in social media. In my captains council meetings, it is emphasized each season. We have a student policy on the use of technology, and I know they are reminded of making good decisions with social media,” Elias wrote in an email. “This is a topic that every school district is dealing with currently, and I am constantly concerned at what’s around the corner as our kids get more exposed to the technology that is at their disposal.”
Spring Grove High School boys’ basketball coach James Brooks knows his teenage players grew up with social media, but he still monitors the accounts of all his players, including his sons’ accounts.
“I really stress for our players to keep it under control, because one tweet about something inappropriate or one post sent at the wrong time can cause serious problems,” he said.
“I think they all understand how to use it, but I don’t know if they understand what lasting effect it has,” Brooks said.
That’s why Brooks and other coaches are keeping an eye on their athletes’ online presences.
“We talk about being responsible in all avenues, especially in social media,” Greencastle-Antrim baseball coach Eric Shaner said. “I try to follow as many on Twitter and Instagram as I can to keep an eye on them. They’re kids, they do stuff and then think about it. We just hope that they will think in the moment. We definitely try to watch them and talk to them about things like that (the Casselberry and Davis incident).
“But at the end of the day, it comes down to the kid making the decision, and we hope they made the right one.”
Of course, the social media issue doesn’t magically resolve itself after athletes graduate from high school.
Millersville University director of athletic communications Ethan Hulsey hosts media training with all of his student-athletes each season. Part of each session focuses on social media conduct.
At small state universities such as Millersville, where student-athletes compete at the NCAA Division II level, it’s not an every-week occurrence for a television crew or newspaper reporter to come and interview athletes. Yet, Hulsey would prefer Millersville athletes conduct their posts on social media as if they are in front of a camera, where their parents, friends and family can all view their posts. Because that’s in fact how social media works.
“You wander that fine line of freedom of speech,” Hulsey said.
The school wants its athletes to be independent thinkers without embarrassing themselves, their team or their school.
“The nightmare scenario is the Joey Casselberry situation,” Hulsey said.
On Twitter or Facebook, most student-athletes list their school and team in their profile, Hulsey said.
“You have to be responsible for who you represent,” Hulsey said.
Private accounts, where users monitor who can follow their posts, might be the best way to go, Hulsey said. Yet Hulsey noted there is real value in having student-athletes use social media. And that’s why the school educates its athletes about social media instead of banning them from it.
“We encourage them to get on social media, because there’s no better ambassador for their school than (students),” Hulsey said.
Franklin & Marshall College asks its head coaches to set guidelines for social media as part of their team rules for student-athletes, according to director of athletic communications Mickey Blymier.
Invariably, like at all schools, every post will not be seen.
“We have over 600 student-athletes, so that would be tough,” Blymier said.
Companies that monitor social media exist, with programs that search for certain words, but as of yet Franklin & Marshall has not taken on that expense to monitor its student-athletes. If there is an issue, it’s handled as it would be if any other team rule were broken.
“About three years ago, (social media) really seemed to have taken off,” Blymier said. “But we’ve never reached the point where we were concerned. For most of these students, social media has been a part of their lives since adolescence.”
Most college students understand the lasting effect of social media, Blymier noted, pointing out that’s why the social media app Snapchat exists. The app allows users to share photos, captions or videos that are viewable for only up to 10 seconds before they disappear. Even then, though, the images can be saved through screen shots or other apps, such as SnapBox.
With social networks increasing in popularity and new outlets arising all the time, the darker side of social media - cyber bullying, inappropriate language and inappropriate pictures - is an issue that’s unlikely to fade away.
Susquehannock athletic director Chuck Abbott recently conducted a presentation for about 200 athletic directors in Pennsylvania concerning social media.
He found all types of policies by all types of schools.
He highlighted the best policy as “education, education, education.”
Coaches need to talk to players, and parents need to know what types of social media their children are using.
“I think anyone who deals with student-athletes needs to be prepared to handle these issues, because social media can lead to serious problems,” Abbott said.
GameTimePA.com reporters Pat Huggins and Shawn Michael contributed to this story.
Information from: York Daily Record, https://www.ydr.com
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