By now if you haven’t heard the drama circulating out of Stillwater, Oklahoma you have been far too consumed with the Olympics in Sochi. As quick recap, Marcus Smart, a lottery-pick star playing for the Oklahoma State Cowboys shoved an infamous Texas Tech booster and super fan after Jeff Orr clearly said something to Smart. Smart shoved Orr, received a technical foul, and has since been suspended by the Big 12 for his actions. Since the incident, sports talk has blown up about the athlete, especially collegiate, and their interactions with fans.
With social media, it is now near impossible for players to seek shelter from an endless barrage of verbal abuse. Coaches and former players have been on Mike and Mike, The Dan Patrick Show, The Herd and countless other radio shows to discuss the difficulties that collegiate athletes are experiencing. Former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg discussed how some of his players received various forms of counseling to help them deal with the constant stream of negative attacks that social media has created.
To my surprise, few if any said what really needs to happen to protect these kids from the abuse of sports fans. Ban them from social media. If you play for me and my team, you’re a member of my family. It is my job to protect you and help place you in a position to succeed not only on the field of play, but in life. Aristotle once said, “to avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” As a college athlete you are living the dream of millions of current and former students who were never good enough to enjoy the opportunities you do. Their jealousy leads to harsh criticisms. We’re talking grown men with kids of their own aiming to destroy someone else’s kids. Ten years ago, if you were a collegiate player for BYU and were headed to Salt Lake to play the University of Utah, or a Michigan Wolverine headed to Columbus you were going to run into some pretty tough situations. You’d hear things about your mother, your wife, or yourself that you wouldn’t have in your wildest dreams imagined hearing.
Fast forward to today and you not only hear those things whilst competing, but you are having to read them as they flood your Twitter feed non-stop. If you don’t know how bad these get, check out what Alabama kicker Cade Foster went through after ‘Bama’s loss to Auburn, from Alabama fans!
At the end of the day, as a coach, I cannot keep the world from raining down on you via social media. And if the problem is getting serious enough that you are having to undergo counseling sessions, or worse, becoming the catalyst to an unacceptable physical outburst on a fan, then I’m controlling what I can. I can’t control what the world says to you, but I can attempt to keep you from it. You play for me, you’re off Twitter and other forms of social media.
It seems like the easiest fix given the situation. First and foremost, my players leave the court after the game, retreat to their dorm rooms with one another, and can catch their breath. They aren’t subject to continuous hate and defamation. They don’t open their phone every three seconds to read more and more hate. Second, but more importantly, I can’t count how many times athletes have “tweeted” things they shouldn’t have. Coaches, organizations, and players themselves end up apologizing profusely for an ill-timed, improper, or just plain stupid social media act. If you’re not on a social media platform, your dumb comment, which we all have on the tip of our tongues or fingers at one point or another, doesn’t reach millions and won’t forever be associated with you.
The creation of Twitter has allowed the sharing of many great ideas and changed the way we interact with the world. On the flipside, it has also created a forum for the most disgusting and hateful people to have a voice, unite, and spread their hate to millions. As an eighteen-year-old kid, if I’m reading some jerk talking bad about my mom, I know damn well I’d be talking right back to them. Eighteen-year-old kids lack the wisdom and perspective of their coaches, who more often than not, know how to step away from the situation whilst paying little to no attention to it.
You can’t expect a freshman in college to handle every situation flawlessly. So you limit the amount of potential pitfalls they have to deal with. Going to college is not easy. Becoming a campus celebrity and keeping out of trouble is hard. Having to hear the hateful things these athletes here at road venues and having to ignore them would be nearly impossible. But reading constant hate and belittlement on a Twitter feed and having to swallow every one of the 140 characters pointed at you, your family, and your well-being would be the hardest of all. It never ends. It’s an endless stream of hate. And in a time where people can constantly write checks their mouths can cash, it’s easy to get caught up and talk back.
So for the sake of the kids on my team, at times for their protection and well being, social media accounts go quiet while you play for me. When you graduate or get drafted, by all means interact with your fans and your haters. Tell the world how stupid it was that I banned social media. But while on my college team, your focuses should be working towards your degree, growing into a man, looking after your teammates, playing your best basketball, and representing yourself, your family, and your university with the highest level of pride. It’s not firing back at the no-name face that envies your position and wishes to see you sink to their level.