By Marcus Shockley

Twitter Athletes
Photo Credit: Flikr/andypiper

It’s been a growing topic for some time, but last week when Yuri Wright, a high school football recruit who was expected to play football for the Michigan Wolverines, lost his scholarship over several things he said on Twitter, it brought the issue to the forefront in a very real way. Following the story breaking into a national recruiting tale, he was also kicked out of Don Bosco Prep School and has suddenly become the poster child for how NOT to use social media.

It’s not surprising that some recruits would run into problems; in a world where I’ve seen adults texting while driving 70 mph on a highway at night, as a culture we are still struggling to handle how to turn our electronic communication off, and more importantly, how to keep our digital mouths shut.

Social media has become an important part of the recruiting landscape, and it’s easy to point to the players who get burned or misuse it. I rely on social media to help track down recruits, coaches and current players and I see both types of use. I think the vast majority of players, even high school players, completely understand the ramifications. However, just in case, here’s a quick guide on how social media should be used by high school recruits.

1. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in public.

You’d think this was the most obvious one, but it isn’t. Some players post just about everything that happens to them on Twitter or Facebook. There’s a fine line here; There’s a lot that can be said, even in public, that’s perfectly acceptable. The problems arises when Twitter is used to air personal grievances, opinions or information. Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to obviously personal tweets or posts, but you have to remember that some fans watch and listen to everything a recruit says. When a high school recruit tweets something about a school, for example, fans try to read if the recruit is indicating he’s leaning one way or another. This isn’t entirely unexpected, because sometimes players announce their intentions over social media.

Just be careful not to blurt out anything you wouldn’t want the world to know. It’s an environment where what you say will get noticed, and not always in a good way.

2. Twitter is a broadcast platform, not a text messaging system.

Twitter is great for quick, open messages to scouts, other players or friends. For many top recruits, they often leave their original high school and play at least one year at a prep school, which means they can play national competition. It also means leaving their friends behind, or at least, some distance away. Twitter and Facebook help bridge the communication gap, so that either a player or an old friend can reach out and let each other know that they are trying to catch up. But here’s the rule: once contact is made, then the conversation needs to be taken “offline”, meaning to another type of communication, whether it’s a phone call, texting or chat. The important thing is that the whole world shouldn’t be privy to your entire conversation.

3. Watch those photos & retweets

If you retweet a racy/lurid/disgusting photo, guess what? It shows up on your profile. And that photo of you at a buddy’s apartment, where’s he’s holding up two bottles of fine spirits? That’s a huge no-no. The reality is that you have to be aware that you can get labeled as a person colleges don’t want to recruit, because it looks like you might have bad judgement.

Yuri Wright lost his scholarship to Michigan for two reasons. First, he tweeted slurs and racist comments that the school wanted no part of. Secondly, he showed a pattern of incredible lack of judgement. It’s true that someone’s online personality may not actually represent who they are, but over time bad posts and tweets paint a picture of someone, good or bad.

Coaches and programs learn that people rarely change their patterns. A player who sulked a lot and missed practices in high school will usually continue to do so in college. Make no mistake, if a college coach is interested in you, they will follow up and try to find out what type of person you are. Some coaches complain that the player’s tweets/posts don’t match the real person, and not in a good way. But you certainly don’t want to have an image of problem player before the coach has even checked. You really have to understand that EVERYTHING you say and do on your Twitter timeline is being monitored by someone, probably someone you don’t expect.

4. You don’t need to broadcast every thought.

I used to follow a college basketball player on Twitter who professed that she wanted to be a sports reporter/writer. She had contacted me about writing for us, and I was considering it. Even though we are focused on men’s basketball, of course we are looking for anyone who has good insight, and we’ve had contributions from female writers in the past. You would expect that her tweets would be similar to a lot of college players; tweets about early morning workouts, disappointing losses or frustrating college classes.

However, none of those tweets came across. Sometimes she would tweet about an NBA game or mention practice, but normally her timeline would be full of where she intended to party after class, how late she was out, and spats with other women over Twitter. Often she would erupt with a barrage of vulgarity-laced posts about her latest failed relationship, which seemed to be about once a week. Finally, I just stopped following her because it felt like she wasn’t serious about anything except getting high and arguing. I have no idea if she is as much of a train wreck as she claims to be, but for someone who wants to work in the media, she really needs to learn how to manage her image. It’s simply better to say as little as possible than saying the wrong thing.

Just remember that every Tweet is a headline; the power of social media is a great tool if used correctly, but it can and will burn you if you misuse it.