Athletes may be banned from Facebook

Kali Price

One football player’s interests are “football, parties and drinking” – but he is only 18 years old. Some underage gymnasts had double-shots at a party over the summer. One wrestler is “in a relationship” with one of the gymnasts. Another wrestler doesn’t have any favorite books because he doesn’t “know how to read.”

But pretty soon Facebook members won’t be able to find any of this information.

Kent State student athletes may be forced to remove their Facebook profiles within the next few days, said Laing Kennedy, Kent State athletic director.

“We are reviewing the situation,” he said. “I’m not wanting to limit student athletes’ ability to communicate with their friends and family. The concern we have is that some of them have put up on it a lot of personal information. Although the intent is harmless, the perception is that it is an invitation to the wrong people. Our interest is to protect our students.”

The discussion was brought up because of problems some student athletes have had with Facebook members. Kennedy said there have been cases of student athletes being contacted through Facebook or phone calls.

He added that through talking with other administrators and coaches, student athletes may be required to remove their personal information or profiles.

“What really got our attention was that we had one student athlete that was contacted inappropriately,” Kennedy said. “In checking that out, we discovered that there was personal information by a number of our student athletes on Facebook.”

Kent State may be following the action of other campuses, such as Loyola Chicago, Baylor, Florida State and Kentucky, by asking student athletes to remove the information.

Baylor made the decision after a student athlete was contacted by a professional agent. Loyola Chicago wanted to protect its student athletes from gamblers and sexual predators.

Kennedy said other Mid-American Conference schools are discussing the issue as well.

“Many of them are at the same stage of the process as we are,” he said. “We’re looking at it as we see some concerns, and we’re looking to take them down.”

At some schools, such as Louisiana State and Colorado, student athletes have faced extreme consequences because of their Facebook usage.

Louisiana State kicked two swim team members off of the team last May for joining a Facebook group that posted derogatory comments about their coach.

A Colorado offensive tackle was 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 last month.

Kennedy said he would like to prevent that from happening and also protect Kent State student athletes from having problems with Facebook members.

“We’ve had a couple situations that would be in the general category of at least modified stalking, inappropriate contacting, inappropriate phone calls,” he said.

Kennedy said the course of action is yet to be determined, but will be decided upon soon. He said the administration is still to discuss the issue with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

“Once we have established our policy and once we’re implementing what we’re going to do with it, if you’re a student athlete, you’re going to have to comply,” Kennedy said. “I’d like to talk to our student athletes and our SAAC group. I’d like to continue to discuss it with coaches.”

The NCAA has not talked about Facebook usage with its members or made any sort of regulations and leaves the issue up to its member schools, Kennedy said. The issue may lead to advisories from the NCAA, but it is unlikely to take any sort of action.

“I think that’s where it’s headed,” he said. “Even more importantly, in my mind, it’s more important to be preventative. We really don’t want this to lead to some unfortunate set of circumstances like that a student gets hurt through this thing.

“In and of itself, you think that it is harmless, but in the hands of the wrong person, it puts you at risk. Student athletes are people of notoriety. Things we do are part of the public domain. Now when you find information about them on Facebook, that leads in a different direction, in a direction I really don’t want our student athletes to deal with and be confronted with.”

Kennedy said his main concern is protecting student athletes because of the availability of information through Facebook.

“I am currently, from our perspective, leaning towards eliminating it,” he said. “Because of the notoriety of our program, our student athletes are held to a higher standard than a normal student because of this.”

At the moment, only Facebook usage may not be allowed, but Kennedy said other sites, such as MySpace, are being investigated as well.

“I think we have to look at it all,” he said. “Once you go there, the regulations are different. In many respects, there are no regulations. Part of it as we’ve discussed it as coaches and administrators is we don’t know a lot about it yet.”

No contact has been made with Facebook, but Kennedy said he is open to suggestions about privacy measures from Facebook administrators.

He added that it is a tough issue to deal with, but a final decision will be made soon.

“It’s an ongoing challenge for us,” Kennedy said, “and I have tremendous respect for our student-athletes. Once we get to the point of implementing what we need to do, I expect they’d have no problem supporting it.”

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