Coaches try to let players tweet freely

Elaine Fox isn’t exactly up to speed on social media.

Social and portable media have created issues coaches never dealt with in decades past.
David Manning

“My mom is 75 years old and she called me and said, ‘What is Twitter?’ ” Georgia men’s basketball coach Mark Fox said.

Fox’s players – along with many college students these days – are well-versed in communicating in 140 characters or less.

That has some coaches keeping a watchful eye on the window that players are opening to those outside their programs.

“This is a Twitter, Facebook world,” Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips said. “We want those guys to have fun with it, but we want to keep it under control, also.”

Twitter is the social network where NBA star Shaquille O’Neal announced his retirement last week and golfer Tiger Woods let the world know that he won’t play in next week’s U.S. Open because of a leg injury.

It’s where some recruits – including N.C. State basketball transfer Ryan Harrow – reveal their plans about what college they plan to attend.

It’s also where some words can create waves.

Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb caused a stir a day after an upset of South Carolina last season when he took to Twitter to criticize fans for more not showing up to games, for arriving late and for heckling the Wildcats.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury banned his players from Twitter in February after critical comments.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, guard Ravern Johnson posted “starting to see why people Transfer you can play the minutes but not getting your talents shown because u watching someone else wit the ball the whole game.”

Teammate Renardo Sidney retweeted the post.

Stansbury said last week in Destin at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings that his players do “not have Twitter no more. Offseason they can have what they want, but during the season, no. It just lets the world into your locker room and we have enough problems as it is keeping your locker room the way it used to be.”

Georgia football coach Mark Richt hasn’t placed restrictions on his players’ use of Twitter, which is used by 18 percent of those online between the ages of 18 and 29 and 13 percent of online adults, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“I know it’s such a big part of the social life of these kids,” Richt said. “I’m really not looking to shut it down. They sacrifice enough with the time they put in for school and football, with all the things we ask them to do.”

Said Phillips: “We have always tried to educate our players and monitor, and when I say monitor, we would watch what they say, but we wouldn’t tell them what to say because we know the world that we live in.”

Fox restricted his players from posting on their Twitter accounts for about a year, but changed that policy this spring.

“They deserved a reward for the behavior they’ve had off the floor,” Fox said. “We’ve had a year with good academic accomplishment and no social issues. They’re starting to show some maturity, so we’ll let some of those guys do that.”

Fox said that incoming freshmen may still be kept from using Twitter.

“There’s certain things that you should say and certain words that you should not,” Fox said. “Social media is something that we never encountered when we were growing up trying to figure out who we were or who we are. That’s something this generation has to deal with. That’s different. As coaches, we’re trying to figure out how to manage that.”

Georgia players may tweet about societal issues (“I really hope my sister never acts like the girls I’ve seen in music videos,” Georgia offensive lineman Chris Burnette tweeted. “It’s disgusting.) and the trivial (“Wendy’s frosty> McD’s ice cream cup” posted Bulldogs basketball guard Gerald Robinson. “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… when I met you,” UGA linebacker Brandon Burrows tweeted referring to an ’80s hit.).

“If there’s any way possible to allow the guys who are responsible with it to keep it going, I think that’s great,” Richt said. “If a guy is irresponsible with it, normally there will be a good warning the first time around. If they continue to do things on a website that’s not good or healthy, we’ll shut an individual down.”

Fox has built his own Twitter audience, numbering more than 6,750 followers.

He kept fans up to date through his feed on Georgia’s adventurous travel through winter weather last season, offered congratulations to his players who graduated last month and offered this a few hours before the “Run for the Roses” in Kentucky: “My Derby pick: Twice the Appeal.” The horse finished 10th.

“It is something that I’ve done a little bit and enjoyed, and I think the fans have enjoyed it,” Fox said.

Fox says Twitter is a part of society now, but he doesn’t think it’s a great way for recruits to get to know his personality or him to get to know recruits.

“What I tweet is a penny and what I talk about face-to-face is a $100 bill,” he said. “It’s a great deal more depth to that.”

Fox is now on board with his players enjoying Twitter – to a certain extent.

“Kids aren’t going to be perfect,” he said. “We’ll give them a chance to stand on their own two feet. If they can handle it, they’ll keep doing it. If not, I guess they’ll have to suffer the consequences.”