So far in this 2016-2017 school year, online group messages have caused some serious issues for a few Collegiate Sports Teams. Harvard Men’s Soccer, Columbia Men’s Wrestling, Amherst Cross Country, and Princeton Men’s Swimming have all had their seasons ended this year for vulgar messages posted in online group chats by team members that were shared with others and eventually reported on to administrators.
It is important to note that just about anything that is shared online in writing can be saved and sent to others to see. Just this fall, I had to ask a swim team member to take an inappropriate photo down from Instagram, because it was not a photo that should be associated with Penn Swimming. The response I got was “it’s private” and nobody can see it. In today’s world, nothing is private. Within seconds, anything that is posted online can be screen-shotted and saved for the future. My student-athlete truly believed that is wasn’t a big deal, until she realized that as a captain, it wasn’t something that she should be posting.
If the student was not a member of the swim team, it may not have been as much of an issue, but it is important to think about whom you are representing when you post to the Internet. Oftentimes, you not only represent yourself, but the larger groups that you are associated with.
Just this past week, we had a staff meeting and the director of social media for Penn Athletics gave some guidelines and education points for social media safety.
Penn Athletics Guidelines for Social Media:
- You are always in uniform
- Curfews on social media (nothing good happens online late at night)
- Nothing is private and nothing is permanently deleted.
- Choose your words carefully
- Rethink before you send
- Put the camera down
- Think of the team before you think of yourself
- Character first
These guidelines are important for coaches to understand, and even more important that we share them with our athletes. The last thing any program wants is a negative image permanently associated with their program that cannot go away. When you Google “Princeton Swimming”, the search returns hits regarding the vulgar messages. Because of social media mistakes, these programs will suffer consequences to their images that may impact recruiting and the program’s future success. What’s more is that coaches can be fired for bad team culture, even if they didn’t necessarily know what was going on behind the scenes. Before you post, think about who you are representing and if other people saw it, how it would impact your organization.