Student-Athletes vs. The Media


This is an excerpt from a paper I recently wrote for my College Sports Administration class explaining the pros and cons of media intrusion on college athletes. I personally believe that the media in the past two years has started to shift its focus onto student athletes as individuals instead of the institutions they represent and that this is not a good thing.

Here is my objective view:

By Ashley 

The attention paid to college athletes by the media has steadily increased in the past ten years. ESPN, the “worldwide leader in sports,” has its own sister network completely dedicated to all things college athletics (ESPNU). CBS Sports and MSG Network also have their very own college-specific channels. In the ever changing ways of how the world receives information, it is vital that student athletes at both the high school and collegiate level understand both the positive and negative impacts that the media can have on their lives. In all three stages of a young person’s interscholastic athletic career, being recruited, making their decision, and then carrying out their commitment, they must always be aware of how they portray themselves and represent their institution in the public light.


BEING RECRUITED

High school juniors and seniors have always had the difficult task of finding the best possible way to get their talents noticed by college coaches. Within the last ten years, social media websites have evolved from a way to share funny pictures from your birthday party to the most effective way to connect with potential employers and in this case, coaches. Athletes use websites such as Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn to get their highlight tapes watched. In a recent ESPN.com article, Jake Trotter writes about Georgia State men’s football coach Bill Curry’s experiences in recruiting and how over the years the methods to communicate with recruits have dramatically changed. When a coach can see who a student athlete interacts with and how they conduct themselves on the internet, it helps them make the decision of whether the young person has the right attitude and demeanor for their program. By knowing what types of things the athlete is interested in and “tweets” about, a recruiter can plan the most effective official visit. “Some guys that come down on an official visit, they want to go see the town. Others want to go to an F.C.A. meeting. You need to know which is which,” Curry said in the article.


The most recent example of social media working against a student athlete on the recruiting trail is former Don Bosco Prep football player Yuri Wright. Wright was expelled from the football-dominant prep school after sexually and racially charged tweets were noticed on his Twitter account by a University of Michigan beat writer last month. After many top tier programs rescinded their scholarship offers, Wright committed to the University of Colorado last week. “Hopefully other people will learn from what happened to me and make smarter choices. My days with social media are over, I promise. No more Twitter. No more Facebook. I have a phone, and if I want to talk to someone now, I’m just calling or texting them,” Wright said in the article written by Jake Trotter. It is very sad that a young man has to complete the last six months of high school somewhere other than where he completed the first three and a half years because of something he put on Twitter. I think that if he was not a nationally recognized high school athlete no one would care what he tweeted about, in fact people would probably say that he was “just being a boy.” This is a commentary on how the media impact on college athletes is beginning to trickle down to the high school level in a negative manner.


NATIONAL SIGNING DAY

February 1, 2012 was the first day for student athletes who participate in fall sports to sign their National Letter of Intent. ESPNU dedicated over ten hours of live coverage as the nation’s top prospects made announcements of where they intended to play college football. Hundreds of thousands of fans watched television and blogged about everything from how soon a player will be able to contribute to their new team to the type of sneakers the young athlete wore during the press conference. As mentioned in Dr. Sack’s book, it is not uncommon for the athlete’s high school to host the new conference and stage a pep rally to show support and congratulations for their star player. It is great to have the support of your family and classmates on the day that you announce where you will attend college, but how much publicity is too much publicity?


During the Under Armour All-America football game, Landon Collins, the number one safety in the ESPN150, made his verbal commitment to the University of Alabama during a break in the game. Being a Louisiana native, this is did not go over well with his family. After putting on the Alabama gloves and proclaiming “Roll Tide,” his mother was obviously distraught. When asked about her visible negative reaction to her son’s commitment, Collins’ mother, with a sour look on her face, responded: “I feel LSU is a better place for him to be… LSU Tigers, LSU Tigers number one… Go Tigers!” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6NVgm_hntI)


This is a prime example of when a student athlete probably does not want the spotlight on them. Deciding where to attend college is a conversation every young person must have with their family, and everyone at ESPN was clearly taken aback by this mother’s reaction. I personally think that it is a good thing that Landon Collins went with his heart and did not let anyone impact his decision, even if the pressure was coming from his own mother. The Under Armour All-America game is a prestigious event and to be invited to play is the highlight of any high school football player’s career. Although it was out of his control, the media coverage of his family’s reaction undoubtedly left a damper on the memories of playing in this game for Collins.


ONCE AT YOUR SCHOOL

ESPN’s College Game Day travels to the home university of marquee matchups every week during the football and basketball seasons. Fans line up as many as two days before the day of the event to guarantee themselves a seat to watch the pre-game analysis show. When not talking about the X’s and O’s of the nation’s biggest match ups, hosts of the show play trivia games with the same student athletes who in just a few hours will be playing on national television. When Game Day visited Pittsburgh for their basketball game against Louisville on January 21, 2012, Pitt players Ashton Gibbs and Trey Woodall played a “Newlyweds” style trivia game of “Know Your Teammate” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_l2A8pxBVuc). While I am sure their coach prepared them well for their game later that evening, I wonder if this was really what the two young men really wanted to be doing as a part of their pregame routine. It was refreshing to see student athletes poke fun at each other for a healthy fanfare of Kim Kardashian and to hear Jay Bilas say “Real recognize real,” it made the players seem like average teenagers for a few minutes. However, I can’t help but believe that this orchestrated event was forced on these student athletes who would have rather slept in that morning and rested their bodies. Dr. Sack was right about media orchestrated pep rallies when he wrote his book in 2008, and the show has only gotten bigger in the past four years.


Another time when most athletes, be them college or professional, do not want to be around members of the press is after a loss. After Duke’s men’s basketball team lost to the University of Connecticut in the 2006 Final Four, the post-game press conference became tense when Coach Mike Krzyzewski immediately shot down a reporter who asked a question directed at his players about a loss the previous season (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIza5F-xG8M). Krzyzewski said that he would address that question once his players were off of the podium. During an emotional time like this, I believe there should not be obligations put on student athletes to address the media. At least give them the night to absorb the emotions they are going through and to clear their minds. Of course the media wants to know what is going through the minds of the players who missed playing in the national championship by one point, but I believe that the media would be less invasive if it was their son on the podium with microphones in his face.


Of course student athletes today are more media savvy today than in the previous decade. We give them no choice. Every week there are scheduled press conferences for coaches and players to address injuries, player issues, and anything else that may be a hot topic that day. Players must know how to handle this pressure and say the right things while still keeping with the notion that they are students just like everyone else. On a larger scale, there are conference media days before the start of every season. Coaches and selected players gather in one location and give multiple interviews in one day to the numerous media outlets that cover their region of the country. These days are also covered on multiple college sports networks for hours on end. These events take away from the time that players could be spending on their academic work or even having a social life outside of playing sports. I believe that with all of the double standards put on student athletes, the least we can do is offer them some privacy and reduce the number of media outlets constantly surrounding them and prying into their personal lives.

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