USF teams take individualized approach with social media


In recent years with the growth of Facebook, the emergence of Instagram and the swift dominance of Twitter, social media has created new means of communications with an endless set of possibilities for what messages can be conveyed.

But as better-known athletes from their respective campuses continue to post and tweet, the benefits of social media are slowly being matched -and some may say outmatched – by the misfortune it brings to themselves and the teams they represent. 

On Saturday, ESPN reported Texas linebacker Steve Edmond made comments in an interview after his spring game expressing slight bitterness over the Longhorns Big 12 Title loss to Baylor last season. 

Edmond told ESPN he thinks Texas is the better team, Baylor doesn’t know how to respond after a win and that Baylor “sucks” in his opinion. 

Multiple Baylor players caught wind of the comments and struck back on Twitter, pushing the trash talk from an interview into the world of social media. The tweets didn’t go unseen, garnering more than 200 favorites and close to 200 retweets between two players, garnering national attention on the athlete and the school.

But the issue is not far removed from USF.

On Feb. 9, not long after Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out as the first openly gay NFL prospect, Jackson posted a homophobic tweet that read the following: “I can’t play with a dude on my team knowing he wants in my pants.”

At the time, USF Associate Athletic Director for Communications Brian Siegrist said in an email that USF Athletics believes firmly in diversity and inclusion, and supports nothing less than treating all individuals with value and respect, and Jackson later apologized on Twitter for his original tweet. 

Some universities have explicit social media policies that state guidelines for student athletes, such as Florida State’s which says “Do not have a false sense of security about your rights to freedom of speech. Understand that freedom of speech is not unlimited. The on-line social network sites are NOT a place where you can say and do whatever you want without repercussions.” However, the NCAA has largely strayed away from the issue and USF currently has no set regulation for Athletics as a whole when it comes to social media use.

USF’s new athletic director Mark Harlan said the solution is simple – education, entirely up to each team’s coaching staff to decide the proper form for. 

“Education and working with the young people (is what we have to do).” Harlan said. “Reminding them that it’s an incredible privilege to compete and unlike other students that are walking by everyday, (athletes) have the media following them. They have children following them. My 7-year-old daughter follows the UCLA women’s gymnastics team. That’s the world we live in today. There’s a responsibility to those athletes and I was a big proponent in that (at UCLA).”

With football and men’s basketball being the revenue-producing sports of most or any college, USF football coach Willie Taggart and basketball coach Orlando Antigua will have their hands full. 

Taggart said talking to the players on a routine basis about the responsibilities each player has as a student-athlete and taking a “hands on” approach was the way education unfolded for the football team. It also helped that each coach had their own Twitter accounts, following the exchanges between players. 

Antigua on the other hand, who was USF’s new hire earlier this month coming from Kentucky, takes over for arguably one of the more vocal teams at USF. 

Players such as Chris Perry and Corey Allen Jr. were just two of the players expressing their opinion throughout the downward spiral of last season leading to the firing of former coach Stan Heath and the coaching search fiasco that ensued. 

Tweets in favor of hiring former USF assistant Steve Roccaforte and favorites of anti-Heath tweets were among the outbursts.

“(At Kentucky) every year we had a session to teach the kids how to utilize social media to improve and enhance their brand and what they stand for,” Antigua said. “It’s an opportunity to promote the good and stay away from anything negative. I think that’s part of the responsibility of being a college athlete. We’ll continue to educate them on the kind of platform that it is.”

As for any past faux pas his or any other team’s players have made on social media, Antigua simply said, “kids will be kids.”

Not too long ago, current NFL prospect and former Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Manziel was one of those kids. 

The former Texas A&M quarterback tweeted in June 2013 saying “Bulls— like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station…whenever it may be.” Manziel later retracted the tweet and posted one with a more apologetic tone, but still received flack for it.

“I find too many times now that athletes are apologizing for something they tweeted out,” USF women’s soccer associate coach Chris Brown said. “It’s gotten out of control in that regard, and for me as a coach I feel like we’re already tracking the players on Facebook to make sure they’re presenting themselves and the program in a good light, but now there are all of these other different outlets in social media. It’s almost impossible to keep up with.”

Brown said the team used to have a staff member that the players had to friend request on Facebook, but that now senior leaders on the team or former players who serve as undergraduate assistants take the initiative to keep track of the other girls and talk them through situations. 

“It’s almost impossible (to monitor players) with everything we have going on as coaches and everything we have to focus on – you start to spread yourself thin,” Brown said. “For us it’s been less about monitoring and more about continuous education.”

And while education seems to be the common trend in coaching techniques at USF, for softball coach Ken Eriksen it only takes one simple rule.

“We have one rule we abide by – the don’t be stupid rule,” he said. “If you think that I think it’s stupid or your parents think it will be stupid, don’t do it.”

In fact, short of having instant access to possibly important information, Eriksen said he doesn’t see the real point of having social media at all.

But whether it’s a selfie or players taking jabs at one another, students and athletes alike will continue to post while coaches and athletics departments everywhere will have to keep up with a trend that doesn’t seem to
be disappearing.