Before I started blogging, I generated a Twitter account. I had no idea what the hell I was doing at the time, nor why I should entertain the four actual people and 11 bots that followed me, but I played along.
I watched what others did. I learned the basics. I dabbled with hashtags. I tried not to piss anybody off. Sometimes this plan worked, sometimes it did not. That part really hasn’t changed.
Over time, the account grew. I began writing more and, eventually, through my blog and Twitter swings and misses, I found my voice. I established a following. I made jokes (some of which still fall completely and utterly flat), and I learned where that line was that you don’t cross. That line is always changing, and there’s a moment of hesitation and unease when my pointer finger hovers over the “Enter” key in such situations.
What happens after that can have serious consequences. Reputations and careers can be altered in 140 characters or less, and that’s not an overstatement. Hitting “Send” is too damn easy.
College football coaches know this very well, and that’s why many have eliminated that moment of truth or dare for their players. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is the latest head coach to ban the social media device from his football team, but he will certainly not be the last.
Fisher’s ban came shortly after sophomore cornerback Tyler Hunter sent tweets that were actually rap lyrics. They weren’t specified as such, however, and they featured profanity and a line that referenced killing police officers, which has created quite a stir.
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong took this sentiment one step further last week while speaking at the Governor’s Cup Luncheon in Kentucky.
"Social media is going to be the downfall of society. It is,” Strong said to a packed room. “Once you tweet, it's there and it's never going to go away. They say, 'Well, I can go take it off.' No, once it's posted, it's posted."
The group chuckled as Strong’s social media rant began, although the laughter subsided almost instantly when it became abundantly clear that the head coach was indeed serious. He’s always serious, although picturing the last walls of civilization crumbling down on the world’s final “Fail Whale” is well beyond potential locker room implications.
Others such as South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Boise State’s Chris Petersen have already implemented this ban, and there will be plenty more to follow. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s minutia in the grand scheme.
I get that. The problem, however, is it doesn’t solve a potential problem or provide valuable learning experience. It just eliminates it altogether.
There’s a certain grey area where a head coach’s responsibilities begin and end. Winning, of course, is first and foremost, regardless of how many discussions about “culture” surface. Discipline is right behind (and this is directly related to improving the overall goal), although this is where it gets complicated.
Coaches spend hundreds of hours with their players, teaching them the nuances of the game and their position. They teach, they yell, and they yell some more. Then they’ll probably yell a little bit more, just to make sure nobody missed the yelling the first few times. On the field, this is all very clear.
They’re persistent and passionate with this process because it directly impacts them and the team. Performance-based, controllable aspects of their life are what they center on, which makes plenty of sense from where they’re sitting. Anything outside of it, such as Twitter, is simply a nuisance.
Giving your best players access to Twitter won’t improve their 40 time. It won’t enhance that extra move they’ve been working on coming off the edge. It will not win you games. It can, however, bring some backlash on your players and your program if your players aren’t careful, and it has happened before.
If you were operating a business, the decision would be quite simple. The problem is that we’re led to believe that these coaches are doing much more than that. We know deep down what this all means, but we hold out hope for more.
The answer isn’t just to eliminate it altogether. The answer is to teach, and it doesn’t take much: an orientation, an hour or a final portion of your film study that could somehow be incorporated into a greater lesson if you need to justify it as such.
I’m admittedly biased in my Twitter affection, but this stretches well beyond a “social media will change your life!” lecture. Yes, I spend far more time on this strange network than I should. If you don’t have an account and recognize this as “the thing that the celebrities I hate are doing,” then this entire argument is likely meaningless. It’s more than that, though.
This is about being more than a walking headset, a teacher that does more than just dissect football. It's about living up to that living room pep talk you gave to a 17-year-old's family to secure a commitment to your school.
By eliminating Twitter, coaches are simply embracing the stigma that many have already placed upon them, and nothing more.