The trap with taking up an argument against Gregg Doyel’s Tuesday column that ostensibly came out in favor of banning college athletes from using Twitter is Doyel’s diagonal argument. He rattles off a list of Big U programs (Boise State, South Carolina and Kansas football, Mississippi State and Villanova basketball) that have barred their jocks from tweeting, then states that he’s “surprised those coaches didn’t do it sooner.” The logic here is that since loose lips have sunk ships — notably, and gratifyingly, North Carolina football — Twitter should be kept out of the hands of babes, lest more NCAA violations come to light.
Twitter isn’t to blame for the offenses — but Twitter got North Carolina busted.
Now then, you and I can love that. And I do. If a player cheats, if a coach looks the other way, if an AD doesn’t have the strength to stop it from happening, they all go down. Good.
That’s me talking as a sports writer and as a sports fan. But if I were talking as a football coach? You better believe I’d ban my players from using Twitter, and I’d do it yesterday. It’s Self-Preservation 101.
It is, in its way, an unassailable line of reasoning. He doesn’t endorse Twitter bans, exactly, but he sympathizes with coaches who would keep one of the era’s great social tools — a free and powerful vehicle for networking and self-expression, both of which are still two major reasons people matriculate in college at all — away from the athletes who could endanger the whole operation by thinking aloud.
This is the same line of thinking that slaps beers out of the hands of 16-year-olds who should be getting acquainted with alcohol before leaving home. But who better to hand a kid his first beer: his old man, or the alkies-in-training at SigEp? And likewise, when you’re 19 and trying to figure out what’s suitable for public discourse (here’s a hint: “Starting to see why people Transfer” might not qualify), why not get schooling from the sports information department? Media training is already standard-issue, as it ought to be for anyone as likely to be interviewed as often as D-I athletes. Why not extend that training to a medium that will always quote you accurately?
“Some of these guys,” Doyel writes, “given a megaphone they’re not trained to use, need to be protected from themselves.” Well then, train ‘em! Here’s a crash course for college jocks: Never use Twitter to announce illegal activity or any sort of drug use, to air a grievance with the coaches or your teammates, to settle grudges, to show up an opponent, to discuss any matters of strategy, or to broadcast photos you wouldn’t want your grandmother seeing. Doesn’t that about cover it? We could add, too, that unless it was a 14-egg omelet with a side of llama bacon, no one cares what you ate for breakfast.
What I’m reading from Doyle is a resigned shrug: Coaches, like bosses at all sorts of companies, are justified in locking down free speech because, well, there’s a chance something could go awry. I tend to think a pre-emptive lockdown of the rank-and-file’s conversation is a form of dim cowardice, except in rare cases, such as U.S. military in the field. But rough as it is, the SEC East still ain’t Afghanistan. A blanket Twitter ban amounts to punting on second down. It’s also likely to fail. Heather Brittany said it well over at Sports Agent Blog: a Twitter ban amounts to teaching abstinence. Good luck with that.
If you’re a jock, 17 or so, talented, ready to take on the world, you have a choice to make. You can either play for Steve Spurrier and his ilk, and let them fit you with a ball gag, or you could look around for the sort of program that embraces the 21st century and perhaps guides you in your use of what can potentially be a really beneficial medium. Damn, kid, they’re not paying you. Least they could do is help you connect with the sort of social-minded folks who might one day help you put that comm studies diploma to use. And heaven knows you need to at least learn the difference between a tweet and a direct message before you get elected to Congress.