Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia and Derrick Mahone
Stockbridge football coach and athletic director Kevin Whitley estimates that 98 percent of his players are on either Facebook or Twitter, the wildly popular social media websites.
"If not 100 percent," he said.
For that reason, Whitley has his own Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Sometimes, it seems his players are more "plugged in" to social media than "tuned in" to team announcements. So, Whitley uses social media websites as a tool to reach his players -- to send out a motivational quote, info about a scouting combine, or a reminder about an upcoming booster club meeting.
But, sometimes, Whitley sees things on his players' social media pages he'd rather not, and, more importantly, something a college recruiter or potential employer would rather not.
It's then that Whitley starts to walk a fine line. He doesn't have a team policy regarding social media websites. He doesn't ban players from using them. He doesn't curtail players' use of the websites during football season, or declare comments about the team off-limits.
But Whitley said he monitors his players on Facebook and Twitter. When he reads an inappropriate post, he sends the player a private email, then talks to the player after school.
"I tell them all the time, 'If a college recruiter saw this, would you recruit you?'" Whitley said. "I try to use it as a learning tool. I have seen some things on there by players where I'm like, 'Man, you can't put this kind of stuff on there.' It hurts them in the end."
The dangers of the use of social media in athletics, particular Twitter, has been put under the microscope in recent months. Consider the case of two Carver-Columbus players who were arrested for stealing iPods and iPhones from the lockers of seven Georgia football players on April 7. One of the suspects put the stolen items for sale on his Twitter account, which tipped off UGA police.
The Carver-Columbus players' case is extreme, but it underscores the role social media now plays in high school sports, and Southern Crescent coaches are taking a wide range of approaches to handling their athletes' use of the websites.
Drew coach Jarrett Laws assigns two to three of his assistant coaches to key a watchful eye on players' Facebook and Twitter pages. Laws does not want inappropiate language, but also will not tolorate players airing any team business on the these websites.
Our parents are 100 percent in support of this," Laws said. "We have had some parents that have asked their kids for their passwords."
All coaches and parents agree that most youths are judged by what they put on these websites. For many, perception is reality when they are judged in the public eye. Social networking has moved into the recruiting business, as college coaches use Facebook and Twitter as a means to keep in contact with players.
Many college coaches have banned their players from the use of Twitter and Facebook, while others have put limits on their use.
Georgia Southern assistant men's basketball coach Chris Kreider said he is amazed at the type of information that teenagers are posting on their account.
"There is no filter as to what gets published," said Kreider, whose players are not allowed to use Twitter during the season. "If I wasn't in this business, I personally would not use it. It is good from a marketing standpoint. Twitter is the basketball information highway."
While Kreider agrees that the images and language might reflect bad on the players, he still thinks it doesn't paint the entire picture of the recruits character.
If we didn't recruit every player that posted something on their account," he said, "we wouldn't have any players to recruit."
And that's why some high school coaches are trying to make sure their players clean up their posts.
Some, like Forest Park boys coach Antonio Wade, prefers that the social network policing be left to the parents. He says he occasionally friends a player just to check on posting, and reports any inappropiate posting to the parents.
"I would rather keep my Facebook account personal," Wade said. "I will bring it to the parents attention because I feel it is their jobs."
Karen Boston-Smith agreeds. Boston-Smith is the mother of Mount Zion three-sport athlete Austin Smith and Forest Park basketball player Raven Wynn.
"Some kids have taken a good thing and made it bad," Boston-Smith said. "This generation needs every prayer we can give them. I monitor my kids. They don't like it, but I don't care. I monitor their Internet use as much as I do their grade books."
Most agree that there are risks involved with young people posting public messages about private matters, profanity-laced or sexually provocative language or images.
Eagle's Landing boys' basketball coach Clay Crump trusts that his players are making the right choices on social networks.
Unlike college coaches and administators, many high schools don't have the time or personnel to become Internet police.
"You try to build relationships and handle the problems in-house before they come to that if you can," Crump said. "I've told them to be careful with technology and how they use it in their life in general."
Guess who's following ...
Here's a look at some of the most prominent
individuals in the public eye who follow athletes
from the Southern Crescent on Twitter.
Name School Sport Follower
Marcus Hunt North Clayton Basketball Mark Fox, Georgia men's basketball coach
Desmond Ringer Eagle's Landing Basketball Mark Fox, Georgia men's basketball coach
Justin Tuoyo Lovejoy Basketball Shaka Smart, VCU men's basketball coach
Mariah Stackhouse North Clayton Golf Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta