Athletic director bans athletes from online student network

Charlotte Muller

One football player’s personal information states, “I set my standards low so I am never disappointed.” He also claims that he doesn’t “even know how to (explicative) read.”

A soccer player’s interests include “partying and drinking Skyy (vodka) with two special ladies” – but she is still underage.

On Aug. 1, however, members of Facebook – the online directory that connects people through social networks – won’t be able to find any of this information.

Kent State Athletic Director Laing Kennedy has ordered all student athletes to remove their Facebook profiles by that date.

On May 2, Kennedy and Associate Athletic Director Cathy O’Donnell addressed all athletes in an e-mail regarding Facebook and similar networking Web sites.

The e-mail emphasized that “the posting of personal information and photos creates risks and safety issues that you need to avoid.”

“I do not want to inhibit student athletes’ ability to communicate with their friends and family,” Kennedy said, “but we have an obligation for their academic and athletic safety.”

Kennedy asked that each of the student athletes remove personal information such as addresses, photos and comments for the time being. Head coaches or designated staff members and program supervisors will be monitoring these Web sites, he said.

“Blocking your coach or administrator from your site will result in serious consequences, including loss of scholarship and/or membership or termination from your team,” the e-mail stated.

Though some may think such disciplinary action may be a threat to students’ free speech, Kennedy said the policy is necessary because of problems several student athletes have experienced with other Facebook members.

“One of our athletes ended up in a stalking situation, a situation the athlete couldn’t get rid of,” he said.

The police department, after resolving the situation, suggested setting up rules for the student athletes’ use of Facebook.

Kennedy said feedback from the Kent State coaching staff made him realize that Facebook is easy access to personal information on a great number of the student athletes.

“Changes had to be made,” Kennedy said.

By asking its athletes to discontinue their Facebook memberships, Kent State follows in the footsteps of other schools, such as Loyola University Chicago and the University of New Mexico.

“It is just a precaution,” Kennedy said. “These Web sites are concerning, but not to that level that we actually have to suspend a team. It is mainly a safety issue.”

Student athletes across the nation have already faced extreme consequences because of their online interactions.

A year ago, Louisiana State kicked two swimmers off the team for joining a Facebook group that posted insulting comments about their coach.

The Northwestern women’s freshman soccer team was suspended and Iowa’s baseball team is being investigated after hazing photos involving the two programs turned up online.

A Colorado offensive tackle was also suspended from the Champs Sports Bowl last December after sending a threatening Facebook message to a member of the cross country team. The football player and his girlfriend were ticketed by campus police, and his girlfriend later quit her team, USA Today reported in March.

Kennedy said he would like to prevent that from happening.

“These are very serious situations that I do not want to see any of the Kent athletes involved in,” he said.

Not everyone is happy with the decision.

“I don’t believe this is fair, but I do understand why the athletic department is implementing this policy,” one senior football player said.

Kennedy said neither Ohio State nor any other Mid-American conference school has reported lawsuits dealing with the issue.

“I have only received three e-mails that expressed a concern,” Kennedy said. “And I had one meeting with a coach and an athlete, whom afterwards decided to take his or her profile down.”

The NCAA has not shown any concern, either, he said.

“It is an institutional thing,” he said.

Though the e-mail sent to Kent State student athletes referred to all online networking Web sites, only Facebook is banned for now. MySpace is still being investigated.

“It will always be an ongoing saga,” Kennedy said, “but there will be a new alternative.”

Contact student wellness reporter Charlotte Muller at [email protected].