Sports Law Blog
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Monday, April 03, 2006
Nospace: Is MySpace Inappropriate for Student Athlete Expression?
In recent months, a hot topic of discussion on college campuses has been the regulation of personal web pages, specifically linked pages through networks like MySpace and Facebook, spurned on by a well-written article by Erik Brady and Daniel Libit in USA Today (Brady & Libit, "Alarms Sound Over Athletes' Facebook Time," USA Today, Mar. 8, 2006). Such websites may require an invitation from the individual website host to view, while others simply require an “.edu” email address to generally search.
While schools do not sponsor such sites, administrators have in some cases disciplined underage students for drinking in photographs posted to such personal sites. Punishment has been handed down for disparaging remarks made about other students and staff members on such sites. Most schools have also made clear that a primary motivation for regulation of such sites is student safety due to the personal information disclosed by individuals on their respective sites, including, phone numbers, addresses, and birth dates. While personal safety is a concern, references have been made to protecting athletes from exploitation by agents and gamblers, as well.
Interestingly, student athletes seem to be under particular scrutiny by universities to remove material from their pages on MySpace and Facebook.
Most recently, John Planek, the Athletic Director at Loyola University (Chicago) banned all athletes from even having profiles on such sites, regardless of the content of said sites. According to Planek, Loyola will enforce this rule, "[the] same way we enforce all the other policies. [If] you don't follow the rules, you aren't on the team. It is a privilege to participate on our teams, not a right...Some rules [athletes must follow] are [a] part of the NCAA, others we instituted...The world a student athlete lives in gives them a certain number of privileges. [However], they have to adhere to certain rules and regulations."
This writer is not aware of any other college taking such a strong stance on such sites, but other student athletes have been punished for certain content on their sites, or simply advised to edit the content. Some examples:
- Baylor, Kentucky, George Washington, and Florida State have warned their athletes to responsibly post.
- Eddie Kenney and Matt Coenen were kicked off the LSU swim team after school officials discovered the two were members of a Facebook group that published insulting comments about their swim coaches.
- Colorado offensive tackle Clint O'Neal and his girlfriend, cross country runner Jackie Zeigle were ticketed for harassment for allegedly sending a racially threatening Facebook message to Hispanic cross country runner Greg Castro in December 2005. O'Neal was also suspended from the Champs Sports Bowl.
Brady and Libit’s article quotes Kermit L. Hall, president of the University at Albany (N.Y.), as believing schools to be legally justified in regulating student athlete use of such sites, but not necessarily the general student population.
"Students who join those teams submit to a certain degree of regulation that doesn't follow the rest of the student population. There are team rules on curfews and other things, and if one of those rules is you can't be on Facebook — or, if you are, that you present yourself in a way that shows the values of your university — I think schools can do it.”Is it possible to make a distinction between athletes that doe not “appear regularly on the sports pages” versus participants in revenue sports like football and basketball? Is there a distinction here between the regulations that could be undertaken by a private versus a public institution? In speaking with some high school and college students, membership in networks like MySpace and Facebook are “essential” elements in their social lives. Could severe restrictions like Loyola’s and severe actions like those undertaken by LSU hurt recruiting of student athletes?