Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
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.”

"Facebook presents a vivid reminder of the paradoxical world in which athletes on campus have to function. They're not public figures in the sense of New York Times v. Sullivan, but they are public figures in the sense that they appear regularly on the sports pages."
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?





6 Comments:

I'm an athlete at Washington and the department here is doing the same sort of thing regarding Facebook accounts. We were all sent an e-mail before the New Year telling us to remove inappropriate photos. A month ago our team was given a heads up to clean up our profiles before the admistrators would look at it (they insuated there would be consequences if there were not "appropriate"). We have since been reminded of this, but I have not heard of anyone who has had repurcussions for their accounts. I know some athletes have removed their accounts as a result.

The most interesting thing is that many students wondered if the coaches were legally allowed to look at our profiles. There seems to be a false sense of security with such sites. The athletes, as well as other students, don't realize that they are posting their personal information on the internet.

Anonymous Martin -- 4/03/2006 10:32 PM  


a slightly different example, but the IOC has had a similar policy for their Olympic athletes and coaches more than two years ago!!

See: http://www.networkworld.com/weblogs/layer8/006035.html

S.C.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/04/2006 10:32 AM  


I know that the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has demanded that all players (or at least the minor leaguers) remove any myspace pages they may have. I do not know the reasoning, however.

John P.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/04/2006 5:07 PM  


What about the implications myspace/facebook has in criminal investigations? I have heard that police search these websites for info. on campuses...

http://www.purdueexponent.com/mojavi/exponent/printview.php?id=2916

Anonymous Pete -- 4/06/2006 10:40 AM  


Martin and anonymous,

Thank you so much for you input. I have gotten other contacts directly from athletes about their experiences with Athletic Departments mandating editing of their personal websites. It appears that administrations are emphasizing "appropriate representation" of the schools by athletes over anything else.

Pete, as to criminal matters, these websites appear to be fair game without a warrant unless such sites are "password protected" or "invitation required".

Blogger Tim Epstein -- 4/06/2006 3:44 PM  


MySpace has beefed up its security to protect/police users. It will be interesting to see if the increased monitoring will result in users abandoning the format for more permissive sites.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/technology/la-fi-myspace11apr11,1,1211960.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Blogger Tim Epstein -- 4/11/2006 1:05 PM  


Post a Comment