The Days of Monitoring Athletes Social Media Are Over…

If you’re like most coaches, the last few months have been a blur. Everyone has been consumed with endless zoom meetings and recruiting calls, as well as navigating a global pandemic and the tragic death of George Floyd.

But like all things college sports-related, the planet continues to spin. Certain evidence of this can be found in Florida, where last Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill aimed at allowing college athletes to make money off of their personal brands. Yes, we have all heard of the “Name, Image and Likeness” legislation that is soon to pass. What made Governor DeSantis’ signature more relevant was the bill he signed is expected to go into effect July 1, 2021.

As George Floyd’s death sparked national and international protests, coaches scrambled with how best to support their student-athletes during this tumultuous time. Many are finding their voice through social media, protests, and advocating for change. While much of what has been posted has been extremely positive and inspirational, others are balancing university guidelines, implied or otherwise, and being restricted from voicing their opinions publicly.

Experienced coaches can all remember when social media platforms first got steam. Monitoring the posts of their student-athletes became an almost daily task. Team rulebooks gained a new section on “friending” coaches and soon after the implementation of the 24-hour policy of taking down posts that the “adults in the room” deemed offensive.

Yes, part of a coaches’ new job description included “Social Media Monitor.” Safe to say, those days are over.

While many of the policies with respect to “Name, Image, and Likeness” have yet to be fine-tuned, one thing is certain: the days of coaches playing social media cop have come to a screeching halt.

Which leads to an interesting debate. Years ago, a student-athlete on our team had a promising music career. A Detroit native, she loved Motown and was a talented, budding rapper.

While her lyrics were thoughtful, they were often laced with profanity. In 2020, how would a coach respond if this rising talent posted her music on her various social media sites? Profanity in music is one area, but what about provocative pics? In 2018, a former Cincinnati volleyball player sued her coach for racial discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.

The charges were centered around Instagram photos that the head coach deemed “too sexy.” But in 2020, who’s to argue that the posting of such photos isn’t an integral part of an athlete’s brand and their ability to make money through “Name, Image and Likeness” legislation? Up until now, coaches will admit they are often conflicted at the images and posts that they personally find revealing or inappropriate.

The natural instinct of coaches has always been to protect their athletes from controversy, perceived or otherwise, and educating young adults on the appropriateness or how negative posts could impact them after graduation. Will coaches now feel it is no longer their place to ask their athletes to take down such posts?

The lawsuit by the Cincinnati student-athlete never went to court, but UC agreed to pay $40,000 as part of a settlement; the school did not admit wrongdoing. We will never know if the Cincinnati athletic department agreed that the head coach had over-stepped her authority. Or if the school simply didn’t want to spend the money on attorneys.

Either way, the outcome of cases such as this and the pending legislation will certainly give coaches pause as to the monitoring of athlete accounts. Ultimately, will administration decide that social media content is best left up to the athletes and their parents? Or will brand managers also be part of the process? At the end of the day, the routine tracking of individual player accounts will likely become one less duty on a coach’s’ job description.

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