Facebook ban misses mark

Kent State Athletic Director Laing Kennedy seems to have all the right moves. So much so that last week he was named the Division I-A Northeast Region Athletics Director of the Year.

But his latest move reads like an illegal defense, if you can forgive a sports clich‚, a flagrant foul that makes you wonder just how much trust and faith he has in his athletes.

Beginning Aug. 1, all Kent State athletes must delete their profiles from the online networking site Facebook or face penalties, including loss of scholarships or termination from teams, according to an e-mail from Kennedy and Associate Athletic Director Cathy O’Donnell sent May 2. The e-mail stated that “the posting of personal information and photos creates risks and safety issues that you need to avoid.”

An incident where one Kent State athlete was stalked because of a Facebook profile sparked Kennedy’s safety concern. The police department recommended setting rules governing athletes’ use of Facebook.

Banning the site is not “setting rules.” Instead, the move sounds more like one of two things: Either Kennedy does not trust his adult athletes to make their own decisions about what is appropriate to post on an Internet site, or he wants to censor them.

Freedom of speech has never been guaranteed for college or professional athletes. Most of them are governed by codes of conduct that restrict their behavior, including what they can say about coaches. To an extent, this editorial board can understand that – if we spoke out against our bosses, we probably wouldn’t be employed very long, either.

But here Kennedy has gone too far. Rather than telling athletes that the code of conduct extends to Facebook, he has banned the site, ending its use as a legitimate networking and communication tool to which an estimated two-thirds of college students belong.

Other schools, such as Florida State and Kentucky, have reportedly advised their athletes to be careful what they post to online sites. Such warnings, and even the further step of educating about acceptable behavior, are exactly the prudent steps needed here, not knee-jerk reactionary bans.

Only foolish athletes would post pictures of themselves breaking the conduct code or publish personal information that might lead to a fan becoming a stalker. Sadly, there are athletes who have been careless enough to do that. But a program to educate students about the consequences of such actions would solve this problem.

The real danger here is that the university is using loss of scholarships and sports participation as threats to dictate student behavior. How would students react if deleting Facebook profiles was a requirement for an academic scholarship? For election to the student senate?

At least for safety concerns, Facebook has the safeguard that users are restricted to having a kent.edu e-mail address. Now Kennedy has increased the risks to athletes and decreased his ability to monitor their behavior by driving them to other, less-regulated sites. Sites that can be viewed by people throughout the world.

Such as MySpace. Or Friendster. Or Xanga. Or Bebo. Or XuQa. Or LiveJournal. Or Connexion. Or the dozen other sites that will spring up in the next six months.

How exactly will Kennedy regulate everything when it comes to the wild, wild World Wide Web?

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board.