Clemson and Florida State Ban Football Teams from Twitter

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What do Clemson and Florida State have in common other than both competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Their head coaches are both enforcing bans on their football student athletes using social media during the season.

As someone who transformed my career from attorney to sports business reporter/analyst in no small part thanks to Twitter, this news troubles me. I’m often brought in to speak to sports administration programs and student athletes about how to use social media for professional development, and I always joke during my presentation that Twitter changed my life. I met my husband on Twitter (after hearing him on the radio and tweeting about the topic). I met my agent on Twitter, which led to my job at ESPN from 2011-2013. And I get a huge number of my speaking engagements when professors and others find me on Twitter.

What’s no laughing matter, however, is the importance of social media in today’s society. And no, it’s not so we can argue about paying student athletes and take jabs at Donald Trump.

Social media’s role in employability is undeniable

Ninety-three percent of employers will check an applicant’s social media before making a hiring decision. So, pretty much every future employer is going to check a student athlete’s social media before hiring them. Fifty-two percent specifically use Twitter for recruiting.

That same study found 73 percent of recruiters have hired a candidate through social media — 14 percent through Twitter.

Another study found that 1-in-3 employers who research candidates on social media have found content that makes them more likely to hire the candidate. Twenty-three percent found content that led directly to hiring the candidate.

It’s not a fad either. Seventy-three percent of recruiters said they planned to increase their investment in social recruiting in 2014.

Although much of the attention is on tweets that prevent people from being hired, Twitter is also a tremendous tool for professional development, allowing professionals to showcase their experience and professional interests and even network to find jobs through tools like Twitter chats.

And that’s the problem. In banning student athletes from social media in an attempt to prevent them from making mistakes, you’re also preventing them from achieving positive results. Football student athletes often complain they don’t have time for internships or networking events or other activities their classmates are engaging in to prepare for their future careers. Now you’ve taken away a free tool they can use from their couch any hour of the day.

A distraction during the season

Clemson is framing the ban as a way to avoid distractions during the season. And indeed, both Clemson and Florida State limit the ban to the season.

There are still a few problems with this rationale and the resulting ban.

First, as this article rightly points out, just because student athletes can’t tweet doesn’t mean they can’t read tweets about them and their teams.

Second, the coaches are missing an invaluable teaching moment. Here in the real world, we all deal with distractions every day. For some maybe it’s family problems or a difficult coworker, and for those of us who have public-facing jobs, it can be Twitter. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve cursed after reading someone’s tweet and wanted to throw my phone across the room. Does it keep me off Twitter? No. Does it impact my ability to do my job? No.

The article about Clemson’s ban says that in previous seasons the senior class has made the decision about Twitter, although the coaching staff solidified the rule this season. It’s not a decision I would let the student athletes make either. On an individual basis, sure. As a team ban? No.

If the student athlete experience is indeed meant to be about education first and being an athlete second, there should be no such thing as a ban against using social media. The number one complaint I get from college students and young professionals is that no one is teaching them how to use social media for professional development, and employers expect you to have learned that somewhere along the way (although I think universities are doing a bad job of this in general). Coaches and athletic departments shouldn’t just shirk that responsibility.

Here’s what I think it really says when a coach bans student athletes from social media: I’m too lazy to invest time in teaching you, or finding someone to teach you, the appropriate way to use social media. I don’t really care that it might impact you when you enter the real world. Here, we focus on football first.

The NCAA loves to tell us about how most student athletes go pro in something other than sports. Apparently it’s a message some coaches either haven’t gotten or don’t care about.

Written by Kristi Dosh