Earlier this week, CBS's Bruce Feldman did a great write—up on Twitter and the college athlete using USC football players Matt Barkley and Khaled Holmes as his case studies to prove that Twitter is not the enemy many fans and coaches consider it to be.
While fans are worried about how social media affects the public's perception of their school or team, and coaches are trying to find a way to make their jobs easier, schools like USC are actually using social media to educate their students and set them up for success.
While some folks are squarely on the side of Twitter being this dangerous tool that young athletes should be kept away from, others see the social media site for what it is; a teaching tool and a teaching moment for the future. Sure, collegiate athletes are going to screw up with Twitter from time to time—that's what that age group does; make bad choices, have errors in judgement and say things they probably have no business saying.
And sure,Twitter does increase the magnitude of those gaffes by amplifying the audience to whom the offhand comments are made.
To that view of things my response is simply, so what?
There are plenty of things far scarier than Twitter in the hands of young adults; credit cards, lawn mowers and cars, to name a few. You educate them, teach them what is and is not acceptable, let them know what you expect them to do and when they screw up you make sure they learn their lesson.
That's why USC is light years ahead of so many colleges and universities when it comes to their social media policy. As Tim Tessalone, the Trojans sports information director puts it perfectly:
Do you want your favorite team banned from twitter?
"I just think it's not right to ban it. This is how people communicate now. Corporations tweet. Government leaders tweet. Do it smartly, and if you make a mistake, that's how you learn."
"Our basic rule of thumb is, if you wouldn't want your mom to see or hear it, don't do it."
That's how this should work, especially for college athletes with fans following them and of course media members waiting for them to tweet something salacious. Schools had to adjust to the Facebook craze in the mid-2000's, and now they must teach students the importance of being social media savvy in this new era of instantaneous communication.
College sports are supposed to be about enriching and empowering young people and preparing them for life after sports. Cutting corners, taking away a possible headache and banning it based upon a paranoid fear of what could possibly go wrong is not helping with that mission of growth.
Hopefully more schools out there will choose to take the route of USC and their athletic department. Educate the kids, stress the importance of responsible communication, and put the tools in the toolbox that they will need to have to be successful both during and after college. Banning Twitter is a quick fix; a snap judgement to avoid addressing the problem. Let's hope USC becomes the model for all collegiate athletic departments.