Web warn­ings

Coaches learn dan­gers of so­cial me­dia mis­use.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - HENRY AP­PLE

ROGERS — The warn­ings for youths used to in­clude be­ing care­ful what their lit­tle mouths may say, what their lit­tle eyes may see or what their lit­tle ears might hear.

Chris Freet took it a step fur­ther as he ad­dressed area coaches Thurs­day morn­ing: Be care­ful what their ath­letes post on so­cial me­dia sites.

Freet, the se­nior as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor for ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tions and strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, since 2014, ad­dressed the is­sue dur­ing the Mercy Sports Clinic and warned coaches of what reper­cus­sions could come on them­selves or their ath­letes be­cause the wrong thing was put on dis­play and placed be­fore the en­tire world on so­cial me­dia web­sites.

“I think it’s a re­al­ity,” Freet said. “It’s how kids com­mu­ni­cate to­day. Since the dawn of time, par­ents have been com­plain­ing about teenagers, right? This is just the thing par­ents com­plain about now.

“They’re go­ing to make bad de­ci­sions. That’s part of be­ing a teenager. That’s how they learn and ma­ture to be an adult. Let’s help them and ed­u­cate them and put them in the best po­si­tion.”

A prime ex­am­ple of how dam­ag­ing post­ing on so­cial me­dia can be is Laremy Tun­sil, who had an old video posted on Twit­ter just be­fore the NFL draft in April 2016. The video showed Tun­sil wear­ing a gas mask and in­hal­ing a sub­stance that ap­peared to be mar­i­juana as smoke filled the screen.

The for­mer Ole Miss of­fen­sive line­man claimed his ac­count had been hacked, but the dam­age had been done. Tun­sil was still cho­sen by the Mi­ami Dol­phins with the 13th over­all pick, but the video may have cost him $10 mil­lion to $12 mil­lion in salary af­ter he was re­port­edly in con­tention to the be the first player se­lected.

Freet, who worked at Ok­la­homa, South Flor­ida and Mi­ami be­fore com­ing to Arkansas, said col­lege and NFL teams in­ves­ti­gate ath­letes through their so­cial me­dia ac­counts, and em­ploy­ers do the same thing to check out pos­si­ble hir­ings. He showed the lo­cal coaches in­stances where col­leges an­nounced they had with­drawn of­fers from po­ten­tial prospects be­cause what they posted on so­cial me­dia sites.

“My eyes had al­ready been open about this be­cause of a few things that hap­pened be­fore,” Gravette foot­ball coach Bill Har­rel­son said. “So­cial me­dia is a great tool for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but there is a lot of neg­a­tive stuff about it. For peo­ple, it’s easy to do with­out hav­ing to put a face to it or not hav­ing to say it.

“If it’s not one of the first things I ad­dress when prac­tice be­gins Mon­day morn­ing, it will be in the top two or three. It could be a lot of trou­ble, so we need to head it off as much as we can. I tell our play­ers they’re re­spon­si­ble to the team 24/7, and that in­cludes so­cial me­dia.”

The ad­vice Freet gave coaches in­cluded rec­om­men­da­tions to their play­ers, such as keep­ing their so­cial me­dia ac­counts pri­vate un­til their se­nior year and to watch who they fol­low or friend. Some­thing else sug­gested was to sim­ply avoid be­ing on so­cial me­dia af­ter a loss and not to talk about a ri­val or fu­ture op­po­nent, whether the post was meant for good or bad.

Freet also brought up what he calls the “grand­mother rule” — not post­ing some­thing that they wouldn’t say in front of their grand­moth­ers — and to re­frain from quot­ing ques­tion­able song lyrics be­cause not ev­ery­body lis­tens to the same mu­sic and the post could be taken the wrong way.

“The big­gest thing these days is kids don’t get a break,” Ben­tonville High vol­ley­ball coach Michelle Smith. “When I was grow­ing up, kids could home and get a break from it all. To­day, when kids go home, they’re im­me­di­ately on their phones, although some par­ents have rules where they take the phone when their kids get home.

“As a staff, we try to stay very aware of what they are do­ing on so­cial me­dia. A ben­e­fit to us at Ben­tonville is our deans of stu­dents are well-aware of the sit­u­a­tion. They’re look­ing and keep­ing us in­formed if there are red flags that come up. We en­cour­age our play­ers to have pos­i­tive posts and stay hum­ble, but you can’t con­trol it all.”

Freet also ad­vised that the newer the so­cial me­dia site is, the higher the risk of us­ing it un­til peo­ple learn how to use it the right way.

“As things ma­ture and are around longer, peo­ple fig­ure out how to op­er­ate them the right way,” Freet said. “Snapchat had a lot of is­sues early on and was not widely re­ceived, and now as it’s grown it’s be­come more ac­cept­able. Face­book is some­thing every­one is on right now.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Chris Freet, Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, se­nior as­so­ciate ath­let­ics di­rec­tor, talks about so­cial me­dia be­hav­ior for ath­letes Thurs­day dur­ing the Mercy Coach­ing Sum­mit at the John. Q. Ham­mons Cen­ter in Rogers.

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