CLEMSON — Just before 11 p.m. last Thursday night, the tweets popped onto timelines, one after another, from Clemson football players.
All of them said, essentially, the same thing.
“Last tweet, Instagram or any type of social media until season’s over,” wrote senior tight end Brandon Ford. “Focus on football and our team goals…text call or DM me….. so long social network.”
“Bye Twitter. See you in January,” wrote senior defensive end Malliciah Goodman. “Go Tigers!”
Clemson had joined a growing trend in college football – banning its players from social media in the name of in-season focus.
South Carolina is beginning its second year of an in-season Twitter ban, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher recently banned his players from Twitter for the second time following a spate of offensive tweets.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the ban is a matter of keeping his players’ minds focused on the field, not Tweetdeck.
“Twitter is a good, useful tool if it’s used the right way,” says Swinney, who has a Twitter account but hasn’t sent a tweet in nearly three years. “You take an 18, 22 year old young person who’s got 30,000 followers, and it’s just one more distraction, one more thing, one more obligation. I’ve got to give them something two, three times a day. Again, that’s great leadership from within. We’re not going to participate in that throughout the season.”
One social media expert argues that limiting players’ access to social media has no correlation with success.
A year ago, Kansas coach Turner Gill banned his players from Twitter. The Jayhawks went 2-10, and Gill was fired in November.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has an “abuse it and lose it” policy regarding social media. Last January, the Crimson Tide won its second BCS national title under Saban’s watch.
“The policy is, if you do it responsibly, you can do it," Saban told reporters this week. "Abuse brings control.”
If used responsibly, Twitter and other forms of social media can be a positive tool, says Fieldhouse Media founder Kevin DeShazo. DeShazo consults with college athletic departments including Arkansas, Oregon and San Jose State to educate student-athletes on how to “leverage social media as a tool to better your program and their careers.” He also offers a service which monitors players’ accounts, using keywords.
“Honestly, I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense,” DeShazo said of a ban. “It’s something their peers are using, and professors are implementing social media into their classrooms. (Athletes) need to know how to use it and use it well. (Taking it away) is not going to help them focus. There’s no correlation between Twitter use and losing games.”
Coaches like Swinney and Fisher are concerned about the negative publicity that Twitter can bring. Last season, South Carolina defensive linemen used an alleged Tweet from quarterback Tajh Boyd – one that Boyd claims he never sent – disparaging the Gamecocks’ defensive line. A Tweet Boyd sent about USC coach G.A. Mangus' arrest for public urination also made its way to the USC locker room's bulletin board. In addition, Swinney’s infamous rant about South Carolina was sparked by a quote knocking Clemson sent by USC’s official football Twitter account and mistakenly attributed to coach Steve Spurrier – it was uttered by play-by-play man Todd Ellis.
Now-dismissed tailback Mike Bellamy raised eyebrows before even enrolling at Clemson by posting a Facebook photo picturing himself and large amounts of cash.
Florida State cornerback Tyler Hunter caused a furor by tweeting lyrics from rapper Lil’ Boosie that referred to killing cops following a recent traffic stop, and teammate Kenny Shaw tweeted that “child support is worse than AIDS.”
DeShazo said Twitter can work as a massive echo chamber; even if a player only has 450 followers, a controversial tweet quickly spreads around the Internet, since Twitter doesn’t require an account to read tweets.
“t’s not truly indicative of how those kids are," Fisher told reporters at last month’s ACC Kickoff. “It's usually younger kids -- a lot of them are retweets – they’ll get it and they’ll retweet it back, and they'll think, 'Well, I didn't do it.' No, it's under your name. It's still tweeted to you.
“They say, ‘I’m just repeating it. On Twitter, it doesn’t work that way. It’s always got your name attached.”
Clemson seniors brought the idea of a ban to Swinney in spring, and after thinking about it over the summer, he instituted it last week before practice began.
Boyd – who briefly deleted his account following last year’s South Carolina loss – admitted to checking his follower count after every game and said “nothing good can come” from Twitter.
Ford, a vocal Twitter presence, also supported the ban.
“Twitter’s something out there where if you’ve got your opinion, you say it, and if you do, you’ve got to be smart in what you say,” Ford said. “I just took it as, it is a distraction to some people, some people it’s not. He’s going to treat us like men. If that’s one of the team discipline things to not be on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I think everyone should agree on it. it doesn’t have nothing to do with playing in the game, but sometimes some guys read into that stuff and they get bad results.”
DeShazo says the average Twitter user sees 17,000 tweets per day. He says users should create a positive identity that reflects themselves online.
And if they don’t have anything worth saying?
“If you don’t have any value to add, then don’t tweet,” he said. “There’s enough noise out there. If all you’re doing is creating noise, then put the phone down.”