Athletes’ online pics causing concern

One of students’ biggest fascinations may just be one of University officials’ biggest headaches.

Athletic departments across the nation are focusing on athletes who use the social networking site Facebook to post photographs or personal information about themselves. Due to the athletes’ representation of the schools they attend coupled with of the nature of the site, many universities have issues with Facebook. Some, such as Loyola University Chicago, have banned student athletes from logging on outright.

Facebook is an online community where any person with an e-mail address ending in .edu can access and make a personal profile. A person can post personal information such as phone number, address and sexual orientation, all of which are visible to anyone the poster allows.

According to a March 8 article in USA Today, two swimmers from Louisiana State University were kicked off the team after it was found they belonged to a Facebook group that posted negative comments about their coaches.

State schools such as Florida State University have taken a more proactive approach to dealing with the problems Facebook presents.

“What we chose to do is ask them to rethink it,” FSU Associate Athletic Director Pam Overton said. “Because I think in many cases they didn’t realize it was in the public domain.”

The issue with the site is mostly content on members’ profiles. One can find many references to sex, occasional disparaging remarks about homosexuals and many photos of underage students in which alcohol is present.

In most cases, a Facebook page can be seen by members who attend the same university, which includes both students and administration.

Overton asked student athletes to remove any inappropriate material – especially photos – from their profiles.

“When we have the opportunity to look at what you’re putting there, we as an administration can decide if that is a violation of team policy, a violation of state law (or) a violation of federal law in what we see in those photographs,” Overton said.

The University of Florida’s Athletic Department also has spoken to its athletes about proper conduct on Facebook.

“We have asked that they view their profiles from an outsider’s point of view,” said Lynda Tealer, associate athletic director at UF in an e-mail. “And to remove any pictures or information that would be illegal, embarrassing or put them in danger.”

At USF, Facebook and similar social networking Web sites have been the subject of meetings between the Athletic Department and coaches.

“We have talked about Facebook,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy said. “We have told the coaches they need to talk to their student athletes about Facebook to ensure that there are no inappropriate types of information.”

Although the Athletic Department has entrusted coaches with policing their athletes’ postings on Facebook, many coaches claim to have a limited knowledge about the workings of the site.

“I don’t know about Facebook. No idea,” football coach Jim Leavitt said. “I don’t know anything about it; I’m naive, I guess. I don’t even know what Facebook is.”

Basketball coach Robert McCullum said Facebook has been mentioned sparingly at a few staff and head coaches’ meetings.

“It’s something that we have talked about a little bit,” McCullum said. “Perhaps not as much as maybe we should have.”

Leavitt said he never attended any meeting where a discussion of Facebook came up.

“I’ve missed a lot of them, because I’ve been either out of town or looking at film,” Leavitt said. “I’ll get to one if I can.”

The problems surrounding incriminating photos are not limited to other schools; USF’s Facebook real estate has its own set of scandalous snapshots.

Junior Jackie Chambers and freshman Carlton Hill are featured in photos along with former USF wide receiver Johnny Peyton in which Peyton is holding a plastic bag filled with a green substance. In one photo, Hill, 20, is holding what appears to be a bottle of alcohol to his lips.

Leavitt would not allow Chambers or Hill to comment.

“You always hope nobody drinks if they’re underage,” Leavitt said. “I don’t know if it happens or not, but I got to find out about Facebook to intelligently talk about what all these things are.”

Members of the baseball and volleyball teams also had Facebook profiles with photos showing underage athletes with what appears to be alcohol.

Although volleyball coach Claire Lessinger did not return phone messages, baseball coach Eddie Cardieri was willing to comment.

“This whole Facebook thing kills me,” Cardieri said. “I don’t even know why they’d get involved in it.”

Cardieri said there is a generation gap between his players and himself.

“The whole thing is this age group, I guess, the day and age we’re in with computers; to me, it’s like from Mars,” Cardieri said. “Why would anyone even get involved in it?”

To USF senior and student athlete Andre Hall, Facebook was an opportunity to make new friends at a new school.

“It’s a good little deal,” Hall said. “It’s a good way to pass time.”

Sophomore soccer player Simon Schoendorf, a Facebook user with more than 250 friends, said he doesn’t think the administration puts themselves in the athletes’ shoes.

“People can’t forget that we are also just young adults that are going through college,” Schoendorf said.

He also said he doesn’t see anything wrong with pictures featuring of-age athletes drinking alcohol.

“As long as you don’t go overboard with what you do, then I don’t think it should be a big deal,” Schoendorf said. “I don’t think it should be overanalyzed by a single picture with a student athlete holding a drink in their hand.”

Users on Facebook can “tag” others, which entails posting photos of the person on the individual’s profile. People can also create fake profiles, assuming a person’s name in some cases.

USF men’s soccer coach George Kiefer made his team aware of those facts.

“When I did speak to the team about it, they say that anybody can basically go on and put up pictures,” Kiefer said. “That’s even more of a reason these student athletes have to be smart in what they do.”

Exercising caution is what Overton advocated the student athletes at FSU do when creating Facebook profiles.

“If you don’t want it on the front page of the paper or you don’t want it on the 6 o’clock news,” Overton said, “then you might (do well to) realize Facebook is being seen by the same people.”

Sparks-McGlinchy said USF is in the process of forming a policy that would deal with Facebook and other Web-based communities.

“Apparently the Facebook issue has escalated recently as we’ve become more aware of it,” Sparks-McGlinchy said. “We have really delved into it. We’re actually talking to some of our sister schools as well to determine what other schools are doing in that regard.”

Although USF or the Athletic Department have yet to issue an official policy on the rules governing student athlete involvement in Facebook, by Wednesday afternoon most of the photos had been removed from profiles, including the Hill and Chambers pictures, which had been removed from Chambers’ page.