National Columnist

Coaches' Twitter ban isn't stunting players, it's protecting them


What started as a single drop is starting to trickle, and soon it will pour. Last year Boise State's Chris Petersen was the first college football coach to ban his players from tweeting, but he wasn't the last. He has been joined by South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Kansas' Turner Gill, and in college basketball by Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury and Villanova's Jay Wright.

And people are appalled. People in my profession, especially.

Me? I'm not appalled. I'm just surprised.

Surprised those coaches didn't do it sooner. Surprised more coaches haven't done it. Surprised this is even a topic for debate.

Twitter can be dangerous. (Getty Images)  
Twitter can be dangerous. (Getty Images)  
Twitter is a wonderful thing, no matter what some idiot (OK, it was me) said about it on CNN a few years ago. But Twitter isn't for everybody. In the wrong hands, Twitter is a dangerous thing.

And a college athlete's hands are awful.

Not all college athletes, OK? Maybe not even most of them. But all it takes is a few players unequipped for the freedom that Twitter provides -- instant communication, without a filter, to anyone in the world -- to make a mess of their own reputation, or a team's chemistry, or worse.

North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin went on Twitter last year to tweet pictures from a posh vacation to South Beach, raising the question: How is Marvin Austin affording a posh vacation in South Beach? By the time that question was answered, the scandal had claimed the jobs of football coach Butch Davis and athletics director Dick Baddour, not to mention the good name of the UNC football team. Twitter isn't to blame for the offenses -- but Twitter got North Carolina busted.

Now then, you and I can love that. And I do. If a player cheats, if a coach looks the other way, if an AD doesn't have the strength to stop it from happening, they all go down. Good.

That's me talking as a sports writer and as a sports fan. But if I were talking as a football coach? You better believe I'd ban my players from using Twitter, and I'd do it yesterday. It's Self-Preservation 101.

At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier banned Twitter after former USC linebacker Corey Miller tweeted out the arrest of star receiver Alshon Jeffery following a fight. Turns out, neither was true. No fight. No arrest. But the misinformation spread on the Internet, spreading to the point that Spurrier -- who was burned earlier this summer when cornerback Victor Hampton tweeted that he'd been dismissed from the team, when in fact Hampton was later reinstated -- banned his players from tweeting.

Petersen and Gill didn't claim a specific reason for banning Twitter. They merely recognized the potential downside. Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury recognized the downside last season when it landed on his desk in 140 characters -- courtesy of star guard Ravern Johnson, who in his post-game disappointment after a loss to Alabama sent a tweet ripping his coaches and teammates. "Starting to see why people transfer ..." is how the tweet began.

It's dangerous, Twitter, and not just for athletes. It's dangerous for any of us. Hell, it's dangerous for me -- and I'm a professional communicator. Trained, paid, experienced, all of it. And still I've had some shameful Twitter moments.

So what chance does a 19-year-old have?

Fine, some of them can handle it. Most of them apparently do handle it -- because when they can't handle it, we find out. And how.

And that's why a college coach would be smart to ban his players from Twitter. A coach isn't limiting his players' personal growth, as people in my business like to think in our typical hand-wringing show of righteousness. Players have plenty of chances to grow as people in college. Classes, interview sessions. Public appearances.

Twitter is a chance they don't need to take -- because if they screw up, I'm waiting. That's right: me. Me, and thousands of people just like me. If a college athlete says the wrong thing on Twitter, people like me are going to hear about. We're going to talk about it on the radio and write about it in the newspaper or on the Internet. By the time we're finished, the player's name will be in shambles and his coach will be performing damage control. As for us, we leave the wreckage in our rear-view and move on to the next guy.

Like Tajh Boyd. Until last week I'd never heard of Tajh Boyd. Turns out he's a quarterback at Clemson, the likely starter this season, but that's not why I know who he is. I know because Boyd recently went on Twitter to mock the Gamecocks, whose quarterback (Stephen Garcia) and quarterbacks coach (G.A. Mangus) have had recent alcohol-related incidents.

"Like coach, like QB (shaking my head)," Boyd tweeted.

Not a bad line. Funny, really. But it's not the kind of thing the quarterback at Clemson needs to be saying publicly about the folks at South Carolina.

That's a mostly harmless example, so I'll give you one that isn't harmless. I don't even have to leave the SEC for it. At Florida, safety Will Hill took to Twitter last year to unleash a barrage of garbage about sex, drugs and the awful food forced on those poor Florida Gators. I won't link to it -- it's that bad -- but Hill's tweets provided a window into his immature soul. And rest assured they were noticed by several NFL teams. Wouldn't surprise me if his tweets cost him a spot on some draft boards.

Some of these guys, given a megaphone they're not trained to use, need to be protected from themselves. It's as simple as that.

Wish someone would protect me from myself every now and then.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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