Why Kirk Herbstreit’s advice to coaches about student athletes using social media is wrong
Kirk Herbstreit, in my opinion, is one of the best analysts in college football. He knows his stuff, he relates well to fans, he let’s you know where he stands, and he has fun. I’m a big fan. That said, Kirk – and the media members, coaches and administrators who agree with him – needs to re-evaluate his position on student-athletes using social media. Kirk went on ESPN Radio this morning on the Mike & Mike show. When asked what advice he would give to coaches, he had this to say (courtesy of 247 Sports):
“My recommendation in the future for all coaches – and I don’t know if you could control this – is get players away from social media; college players,” Herbstreit said. “Because what I find is it’s counterproductive. And I know it’s freedom of speech and you guys should get on this topic some time. And I don’t know how you’d control it. But I’ve never seen a team as active as Ohio State on social media and kind of going back-and-forth, whether it’s the fans, or media, or whatever it might be.
“You can say it doesn’t affect you, but at the end of the day it does. I would do everything in my power if I were a coach in today’s climate to say, ‘Hey guys, camp starts August 1 and your phones and social media, they get put on the sidelines until we’re done playing. You’re not going to engage. You’re not going to get involved. Because there’s nothing good that comes out of that.’
“I think in some weird way, that may have had some sort of impact on Ohio State, because those guys, they were tweeting more than they were practicing it seemed like sometimes. Those guys were really, really active – and kind of cute – on social media. And they need to put that away. All teams, in my mind, needs to put that stuff away.”
“It’s not always what they tweet out and what they send, it’s what they read and what people can say to them is the thing I have a problem with.”
This is such a tired and played out narrative. Look, I get the last part. College athletes – especially high profile ones but we see the issue at lower levels as well – are subjected to a disturbing amount of hate online. It’s disgusting. We spoke with ESPN about it earlier this season. I’ve done sessions with programs where we only addressed cyber bullying and it was powerful to hear the stories from players. No human should have to endure that. There are better ways to handle it than simply running away and hiding.
I disagree with Herbstreit’s stance not just because my job involves educating student-athletes on using social media well, but because it’s 2015 (almost 2016). To say there’s no value – and even worse, to suggest that it impacts wins and losses – is irresponsible and not true. Just last year, Ohio State won the title and their players were very active on social media. Here’s a story from a player at a DI school we worked with – he changed how he used social media and it helped him get a job. I’ve had countless emails, texts and phone calls from student-athletes with similar stories.
Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s part of our lives. 94% of college athletes use social media. Learning to communicate in a digital space is a skill that employers look for. If you’re a teacher, your students are online. If you’re in sales or marketing, your customers are online. If you’re a pastor, your congregation is online. Whatever your profession, social media skills are now necessary. Not to let the world know what you had for lunch, but to tell your story. To say why your idea matters, why your product matters, why your business matters.
When we do sessions with coaches and administrators we ask them a question. “What is your job?” Outside of wins and losses, they are there for a reason. What is it?
“Prepare our student-athletes for the real world.”
“Mentor our student-athletes.”
“Equip our kids to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
And I love this line that I’ve seen in email signatures from friends at Purdue: “Developing champions, scholars, citizens.”
We educate student-athletes about financial responsibility, about alcohol and substance abuse, about the supplements they put into their body, about what it means to be a leader both on and off the field. The list goes on and on. If we don’t do the same with social media – instead choosing to ignore it, to ban it, to restrict it – then we’ve failed. What we’re essentially telling them is that we don’t trust them. That we don’t believe they are capable of making good decisions. That the only thing that matters is their sport. We overpower them rather than empower them.
The marriage of student-athletes and social media doesn’t have to be an ugly one. If they use it well, it benefits not only the athlete but the team, the athletics department and the university. It’s on us to educate, equip and empower them.
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