Should Penn State Adopt a Policy Guiding Athletes’ Use of Social Media?


As a State College criminal defense lawyer, I often use social media, like Twitter, Google +, and Facebook, to help promote my criminal defense firm.  While I try to be interesting, I also avoid offensive or controversial topics. We all have heard horror stories of people that posted something improper via social media and got into trouble.

Social Media and College Athletics

For example, an Ohio State backup quarterback tweeted that he did not understand why he had to attend classes when he chose to go to college to play  football. He tweeted that classes were “pointless.”  At Penn State, we recruit student-athletes, so hopefully we wouldn’t have to worry about such idiotic postings.

Michigan also got into some hot water with the NCAA after a football player tweeted to a football recruit from his high school, and, while the tweet was innocent in intention, the tweet violated NCAA recruiting rules. Possibly in response to violation, or maybe to avoid future issue, the Michigan athletic department created a formal social media policy and requires it athletes to sign an agreement. Sanctions for violations of the agreement could include suspension from the team.

Penn State Athletic Department Should Create a Social Media Policy

As a Penn State alum, it pains me to admit that Penn State should follow Michigan’s lead and create and implement a social media policy in the athletic department. I am sure that Penn State would not have players tweeting about “pointless” classes as Penn State athletes love attending the incredibly interesting courses, expecially the required gen ed classes.  Despite Penn State student-athlete’s affinity for attending classes, having a social media policy in place to avoid inappropriate postings would be a good idea.  I expect the policy would contain guidelines for use and would include sanctions for violations of the guidelines.  I would also anticipate the use of education programs about how social media can be used to benefit both the athlete individually and the program in general.

In the article that I read, it discussed how athletes are more aware of the number of their Twitter followers than they are of their performance statistics.  Players are aware that they have an audience and a following based upon their athletic status with a major athletic program such as Penn State. I believe that it would be wrong for Penn State to forbid athletes to take advantage of the positives associated with social media, but I also believe that the Penn State athletic department should be able to implement guidelines and limits on the use of social media. The following on social media is often a direct result of the fact that the person is a Penn State athlete, and Penn State thereby has the power to impose limits and restrictions on those to whom it bestows the status of being a Penn State athlete.

In an era of trying to avoid future problems, Penn State should be proactive and implement a social media policy. Penn State would not have to “reinvent the wheel” as it could simply use portions of programs that are already being implemented by other universities.  And we don’t have to tell anyone that we got the idea from Michigan.