ARTICLE OF THE DAY
 
Online Directories
Are a Problem for Student Athletes

by Eric Gilmore
7/28/06

It’s scary what’s available on the internet. Cell phone numbers and home addresses can be easily accessed by scavengers perusing the World Wide Web. Looking through the depths of free databases, any stranger can view vital information normally reserved for immediate family.

Through a couple of mouse clicks, Facebook.com is a prime website for freaky information to fall on the wrong eyes. The collegiate version of myspace.com, Facebook.com is an online directory that allows users to create individual profiles. Users can become ‘online’ friends with real life contacts and create spider-web like networks by joining common interest groups.

Facebook is synched with users’ e-mail addresses. Upon its creation, only dot-edu domains were allowed to provide a niche for college students. Within the past year, Facebook has expanded, granting access to high schoolers.

Aimed to be a digital social network, Facebook often reunites old friends who’ve lost touch over the years. It allows for contacts to spark conversation with each other by viewing their mutual friends. But most importantly, it builds a sense of community on campus while allowing students to put a face to a name.

However, the digital database is quickly becoming a monster for college athletic departments. Without a policing force, athletic directors aren’t sure what policies, if any, need to be implemented. And more problematic, many athletic departments aren’t aware of the issue.

ECU is no exception. Though, ECU hasn’t made their stance public, many athletes’ profiles contain comments and images that are strikingly inappropriate.

On the profiles, users can post all manner of personal information such as cell phone numbers, class schedules, even sexual orientation.

At least one football starter has his cell phone number displayed on his profile while numerous athletes list their personal instant messenger screen names. Many times, the instant messenger profiles contain contact information. Many birthdays, something many media guides are shying away from listing, are also posted.

Another way for students to connect is with the Facebook message system. Messages can be sent privately, like e-mail, or they can be posted on "The Wall" of another member’s profile. Those can be read by others, unless deleted.

An unidentified football player posted that Duke is a “basketball ass school” regarding a picture taken during the 2005 season opener. Other derogatory jokes, including many directed at women and drug references are common throughout the football team's profiles. Again, the profiles can be accessed by a player’s ‘online friend’ or anyone with an ECU dot-edu e-mail address.

At least one person affiliated with the football program, but not a player, wrote a comment on a player’s “Wall” congratulating his recent grades. While players aren’t restricted from contacting administrators on a social basis, the contact straddles the student-teacher/administrator relationship.

The focus of Facebook has been the ability for students to post pictures online. The pictures are “tagged,” which allows for the picture to appear on a user’s profile. The images can be logged in personal albums or attached to profiles. The trigger is that images can and do directly incriminate athletes.

At least six, some prominent football players, are either shown drinking what clearly appears to be alcohol or holding an alcoholic beverage while underage. Recently, two former women athletes were shown in romantic poses with other women.

However, the comments and pictures are common compared to their college peers. Almost two-thirds of students have Facebook profiles. Of those, many are littered with college jargon and alcohol-induced photos. Students joke with their ‘relationship status,’ often thinking its funny to be joined in same-sex ‘online marriages.’

Basically, the ECU athletes are on par with the student body. But because the athletes are held as public figures, at least on campus, shouldn’t they be held to higher standards? Think of a picture of Johnny, the college freshman, or James Pinkney, the starting quarterback, taking a beer bong. Which is going to cause more of a public uproar?

Many colleges encourage students to sign social agreements, with the understanding that by choosing to accept a scholarship and compete athletically, the students are held to different standards. And, darn it, they should be.

Yes, athletes are students just the same. However, if a headline ends up in a newspaper’s crime report, the university’s image is tarnished, along with the athlete's. And that reason alone sets the student-athlete apart from the student body.

Don’t get me wrong, student-athletes should have access to Facebook profiles. But increase the privacy rating. Eradicate the inappropriate messages and get rid of the crime-laced photos. Other than that, enjoy the fun.

Seriously, someone within the athletic department, preferably Terry Holland, needs to educate his student-athletes on the dangers of posting incriminating photos and intimate information. The stance needs to be made public.

It would preempt some potentially embarrassing information being reported, similar to the ones involving hazing recently posted on badjocks.com.

If nothing changes soon, the Facebook monster will continue to get bigger.

Eric Gilmore
eric@pirateradio1250.com