Social Media, Student Athletes and Social Issues
“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox
We are, without question, living in interesting times. From #NeverTrump to #CrookedHillary, Russia news to #FakeNews, #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter, our waves of communication (TV, internet and personal) are rife with tension. Everyone has a voice, everyone has an opinion, everyone has a platform to shout it from.
So, what about student-athletes? Coaches want to eliminate “distractions” and want the players focused, but we need to acknowledge that it might be tough to focus completely on their sport when they see what’s going on in the world – good and bad.
They scroll through Twitter in the morning and see a new scandal, a new shooting, a new quote from a political leader that cuts them to their core.
And they have feelings. They have emotions. They are angry, they are excited, they are hurt, they are confused. They have a response.
Some have spoken out. Like Nigel Hayes on racism (and plenty more).
To White America, black athletes should only entertain. Once they speak on social issues, they've gone too far… https://t.co/z1YVy2fLoh
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) September 22, 2016
There are many more examples as well. But shouldn’t they just stay silent? Shouldn’t they “stick to sports” like so many fans suggest? Isn’t silence the best option? In our social media trainings with student-athletes, we tell them that if they care, silence is not an option. Especially if and when you care deeply about an issue. When you are personally impacted by it. When you see it reach your family, friends, community.
Silence, while often a mature and good response, can also have a great cost – even if that cost is your conscience. We want student-athletes to be leaders, to use their voice for good, to do their part to make the world better. And many times that means speaking up.
The key, as we share in our sessions, is to be informed. To speak and shout without information is ignorance and only makes the situation worse (this goes for all of us, by the way). They may be hurt, angry, confused and passionate when they scroll through Twitter and see another crisis. Their emotions are right and valid, but the response must be measured. First reports on situations are often wrong – especially online where everyone is a journalist. Our advice when working with athletes is to speak with an administrator (or any trusted adult) about what is going on, and do research. To find out what’s really happening and why it’s happening. To figure out what they can do about it. To speak up when they can add value, not just add noise (like many of us have unfortunately done when news breaks). To use their voice for good rather than making something worse.
Before you speak, before you post, before you shout, be informed. While some issues are very clear what’s right and wrong, many are nuanced. Opinions and experiences will be all over the place. What we want is for student-athletes to be able to understand why they are on a side. To have more than an opinion, to have a belief. To have something to stand on when the critics come (and they will come with fury).
Student-Athletes have a natural platform. When they speak/tweet/post/snap, people listen. Their words carry weight and have an impact. They can and should be agents for change in making this world a better place. As administrators and coaches, we should support that. We shouldn’t shut them down and tell them to keep quiet. We should educate, equip and empower them to use their voice for good.
Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating student-athletes and staff to providing an overall strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 250 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.
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