Is it time for H.S. coaches to ban in-season social media posts?
In recent days, the greatest current threat to the preservation of a civil sports culture — the dreaded "send" button — claimed three more victims.
Paul Pierce lost his job at ESPN because of a racy Instagram Live video, featuring Pierce in a room with exotic dancers.
Kevin Durant absorbed a $50,000 fine from the NBA (granted, that's lunch money to him) for using homophobic and misogynistic language via Twitter in reference to actor Michael Rapaport.
A high school athlete in the region was denied the ability to play in a league championship game because of a derogatory tweet aimed at a previous opponent.
They are merely the examples du jour. More are coming. The "send" button has become its own intoxicant.
And so as another spring high school season approaches, coaches are left to ponder what might happen if the next ill-advised social media post imperils their programs, too. Young people's preoccupations with Twitter and other social media platforms often result in disciplinary action and tentacles that adversely affect teammates, outcomes and team/school images.
So is it time high school coaches go the route of UConn's Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey, who do not allow their players to post on social media during the season?
"Here is what we tell them," Dailey said. "We're saving them from themselves. There are adults and actors and athletes who at an emotional moment tweet something that you can never get back. It's one less distraction they have to worry about.
"Geno and I have always been on the same page with this. It's like parenting. Parents I hear all the time say you have to pick your battles. I believe you do. I feel like we established our standard. My background is in teaching. I learned you start strict and let students understand and respond. Once they do, you can give them more responsibility. But you can't start out soft and think you can come back and be demanding."
There is precedent for banning in-season social media posts among local high school coaches. New London athletic director Phil Orbe is the former three-time state championship baseball coach at Montville. Late in his coaching career, he imposed a strict social media rule.
"Some would say it's the control freak in me," Orbe said earlier this week. "But at the time (around 2014) a lot of social media wasn't necessarily new, but new to the way it was being used: as a way to talk smack back and forth.
"At that point, as a head coach, I didn't think anything good could come from it. So the rule was that they could certainly go on to a social media forum and post a family photo from Easter, for example, but nothing to do with baseball program or remotely close to baseball. It wasn't something we monitored. We knew we couldn't see everything, but the kids knew there was a zero tolerance policy."
Orbe echoed Dailey, saying, "We wanted to teach the kids accountability and responsibility. Sometimes they need to be aware of the fact that whatever they say can and will be used against them."
So why don't more coaches adopt such policies? Easy. They're scared. They are scared of a lack of administrative support in the instance "zero tolerance" must be applied. Hard to blame them now in a society when aggrieved parents thrive like a fungal rash.
Such rules would run afoul of the "freedom of speech" crowd, many of whom act as though they'd just had lunch with our framers. Except our framers have been dead for hundreds of years, leaving us to merely interpret the meanings behind the words.
"Freedom of speech" happens to be quite literal. It means you are free to speak and maintain your freedom when finished speaking. Your words will not result in imprisonment. Freedom of speech, however, does not provide a shield for the consequences of your words. There is a difference between being disciplined for what you say and imprisoned. Alas, Kevin Durant got fined for his slurs, not sent to Sing Sing.
Lest we forget that playing on a team is a privilege, not a birthright. The coach makes the rules. It's time coaches, as Dailey and Orbe say, protect kids from themselves and their programs from unnecessary distractions. It's the difference between educating our kids over enabling them.
"When we came up with the social media policy at Montville, we brought the parents and kids on board," Orbe said. "We told them, 'hey, this is what we're doing and it is to protect your kid.' It wasn't meant for us to be a dictatorship or censoring anything. If they want to post a family photo, fine. Just not anything that had to do with our athletic team."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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