Is social media poison for student athletes?
Rick Pitino has been in the headlines this week for his take on social media as it pertains to athletes. In a quote shared by FoxSports, Pitino said, “I think anybody who reads social media who’s in sports is not all there. To me, I think it’s the great class of underachievers who live on the Internet with social media. I think it’s people that waste their time, and underachieve because they’re not paying attention to what they should be.” This was retweeted and overreacted to by many, myself included. Turns out Pitino was talking about those who spew hatred and racism at student-athletes. Clearly, on that point, he’s right.
Then yesterday he went on Mike and Mike and continued his rant. “I think technology is a great thing in many instances, and I think it’s poison in others, and for people in sports especially.”
He went on to say that social media is great for the media and people in Hollywood but for athletes, it’s poison. Twitter is good for Bieber and Miley Cyrus but bad for athletes in college who, it turns out, are the same age as Bieber and Miley? Got it.
It should be no surprise that Pitino doesn’t use social media and bans his players from Twitter (though he lets the use Instagram, a platform where fans can and do spew hate, but I digress). It’s hard have an accurate opinion on something you don’t use it and only hear bad things about.
John Calipari, also on Mike and Mike, came out today with a different perspective. “I’m not going to hold my team back from Twitter or Facebook, but I’m going to teach them. I’m going to use it as a positive. Twitter is an opportunity — Facebook is an opportunity — to say what you feel, to try to pick people up, to try to be positive, to try to add something to society, to try to let people see you transparently. You cannot be defined, if you are on social media, by somebody else. You will define yourself. And if it’s negative, that’s your fault.”
Calipari, as I’m sure you know, uses Twitter. He doesn’t get into the social aspect of it where he reads his mentions, but he understands what social media is and can be. He knows the good that can come from it.
Pitino bans his players from Twitter, but allows them to use Instagram, Facebook, etc. Places where fans can and do spew hate. Calipari allows his players to use social media. Both coaches have won championships in the past two years. Banning social media doesn’t impact wins and losses. Wichita State, a program I have worked with each of the past two years on training their players on social media use, is currently the only undefeated team in DI.
So is social media poison for athletes? Of course not. Some student-athletes, particularly those who play high profile sports at high profile programs, will receive some hate on social media. It’s horrible, disgusting and unnecessary. There’s no getting around that and it has to be addressed. Players need to be prepared for it and understand how to deal with it. If you are a coach, talking to your players about this on a consistent basis is now part of your job. Period.
Social Media can also be a fantastic thing, if players are educated well – educated not only about the risks, but what it means to use it well and why that matters. 78% of companies have hired somebody through social media. Use it well and you can stand out from the competition, like this student-athlete did. You can use it to engage with fans, rally their support, share your perspective and tell your story. It’s your words. You control the story. You are the media.
94% of student-athletes use social media every day, while 38% say they spend at least one hour per day on social media. (Pitino says his players told him they spend 4 hours per day on social media. If that’s the case, they are failing every class) Love it or hate it, they are using it. You can ban it and complain about it, or you can look up and see what’s happening in the world. Many of these players won’t play professionally. They’ll go into sales (where their customers are online), coaching (where their players are online), healthcare (where their patients are online), journalism (where their readers are online) and other industries. We can prepare them for success or we can tell them how awful social media is.
Yes, they need to know how to interview and express themselves verbally. It’s also crucial for them to understand how to communicate in an increasingly digital world.
Pitino is a fantastic coach. That much cannot be debated. But his stance on social media appears, to me, to be an excuse. If your players can’t communicate, that is not social media’s fault. If your players aren’t committed, that is not social media’s fault. Ignoring and complaining about social media won’t make it go away. Embrace and educate. After all, isn’t that what college is for?
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