By Ashton Eley
The Razorback Reporter
Athletes’ mistakes in this viral age instantly get uploaded and shared on social media. Now more than ever, college athletes must constantly be aware of how they represent themselves, the University of Arkansas director of compliance said.
In 2009, the incident involving a sports agent who paid for a University of North Carolina player’s travels made national headlines. That infraction could have been caught easily if institution had watched the player’s posts. Afterward, universities across the nation created more vigorous programs to monitor athletes’ social networking sites.
“That’s when people started doing a lot of monitoring,” said Will Landreth, UA compliance director. “Our philosophy was we are going to educate the athletes and they are going to be responsible. We monitor what they post, but we don’t try to hold their hand.”
Though UA athletics has not experienced a major student media mishap, Landreth said, the department still wants Razorback players to understand that getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing on social media can have serious consequences. He demonstrates this to athletes by showing them mistakes made recently at other universities.
“I use examples from other schools of kids going on rants about playing time on their coaches or kids saying racial slurs that get them suspended from games,” Landreth said. All it is going to take is one Snapchat or one tweet to lose your shot.”
Alongside compliance education and monitoring, Landreth said one reason he thinks Arkansas athletes have managed to stay out of the negative spotlight is fan and peer accountability.
“Anything that gets put out there that might be a violation or that a fan, a coach or another player might say is not representative of the Arkansas Razorbacks, it will get sent to us,” Landreth said. “Usually if it gets out there it gets taken right down almost immediately, but we have very few of those.”
Negative posts about a team or personal attacks can be difficult to ignore, but many UA players said that blocking criticism is just part of being an athlete.
“I think one of my favorite things is when someone misses that shot in a game that could have won the game, and all the fans are saying how do you miss that shot. I think, ‘Well, would you have made that shot?’” UA soccer player Teni Butler said. “I do keep there is a very small percent of the population that has the opportunity to play in a SEC division one setting. So a lot of times you just have to laugh it off.”
If athletes or college students think that their safety, or someone else’s, is in jeopardy, they are urged to contact the UA Police Department, Capt. Mike Mills said.
“We do not have an active monitoring system right now, so are reliant on others to report that to us,” Mills said. “We have investigated crimes through social media, those involving threats and harassment, for athletes and non-athletes.”
If a violation has been committed, UAPD would take one of two courses of action. However, Mills said, the university has a low level of harassment cases compared to other colleges.
“If it is a criminal violation, we can open a criminal report, or if it is a non-criminal violation we will go through the university’s judicial system and do what we call an intelligence report,” Mills said. This way we can build a pattern if the same individual continues harassment.”
Athletes, perhaps more than other college students, are taught to market themselves and stay away from conflict on and offline, understanding that they are under a microscope by their school, their fans and potential future employers.
“You are not a general student as an athlete. The Razorback logo never comes off,” Landreth said, “140 characters or less could cost you your scholarship or even your eligibility.”