Social media is changing the universe.
A way for people to stay in touch and exchange ideas and information in ways never before believed possible, instant communication isn’t always a good thing, especially for high school and college athletes.
What may seem like a simple post to some can be image altering to others, tarnishing reputations and derailing scholarship chances with the touch of a button.
For Harker Heights High School coach Jerry Edwards, the old-school football lesson of depicting yourself, your school and your program in the proper way still applies in the 21st century.
“We talk to them all the time about making sure that they’re always doing something that’s appropriate, being the type of players that we want here and maintaining a positive image,” Edwards said.
Edwards is one of thousands of high school coaches across the country working in the age of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The Knights’ head football coach had Killeen Independent School District media relations officials help educate the team about using social media. He said the Knights understand to think before pressing “send.”
“It’s an educational process, but these kids nowadays have grown up with it,” Edwards said. “It’s been a reality to them their whole lives. I think when it first came out, there was a problem with what was being put out there. I think kids now understand the repercussions more of negative social media use.”
When Bob Shipley joined the University of Texas staff as an analyst in the player personnel department, he and the rest of the staff were asked to create Twitter profiles, but Shipley wasn’t particularly active.
“Mainly just following recruits and stuff,” he said.
But when Shipley was hired as the head football coach at Belton High School this spring, he decided to make use of the social media tool in his return to high school football.
Now, Shipley posts every day — a challenge he gave himself when he took the job — delivering motivation and words of encouragement that come from the heart.
“Not from the school or not from the football program — it’s not associated with that,” Shipley said. “It’s just from me.”
Shipley said he reads all the time and is always looking for ways to improve himself and his team, and when he comes across material he likes, he’ll jot it down.
Not only has tweeting every day been easier than he anticipated — Shipley said he typically tweets within 30 minutes of waking up — Shipley has found his messages to be impactful for himself and others.
“Goodness, I’ve got about, I don’t know how many people, 2,600 followers or something like that, and I get a lot of responses back,” Shipley said. “So, you never know when it’s going to reach the right person at the right time.”
Florence head coach Joey McQueen has been coaching for more than 30 years — well before the Internet boom — but now his morning routine includes logging on and checking out the news.
“Usually when I get up in the morning, I spend about 30 minutes on Facebook and Twitter trying to get the news for the day, catching up on what happened the night before and stuff like that,” McQueen said.
He said being tech savvy is a big part of the job. Social media is just the latest way to disseminate and obtain information. McQueen regularly updates Florence ISD athletics information, retweets inspirational items, such as area football championship trophies, and photos of athletes at different events.
“Some people use it in a bad way, but I think it’s a great tool if you want to get information out and do it the right way,” McQueen said.
McQueen has more than 3,700 tweets and had 828 followers last week.
McQueen said he started using Twitter when he was recruiting as an assistant at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. He said the site has been helpful in evaluating the character of recruits.
“Kids would say some crazy things on there and I would tell them, ‘Hey, if you’re going to be a recruit for us, you better change your way,’” McQueen said.
McQueen said one precaution he takes is not following any athletes on Twitter. Instead, he communicates with them directly via the Remind 101 text messaging service many school districts use.
Having been on the college side of the recruiting process, Shipley knows the consequences of insensitive posts on social media.
“I know college coaches read it,” Shipley said, “and I know for a fact firsthand that kids were passed on because the kind of stuff they put on Twitter was the kind of stuff that you want to try to discourage on your football team.”
In this time where a tweet can become news — just last year the NBA fined the Los Angeles Clippers’ Matt Barnes $25,000 for the language he used in a postgame tweet —it isn’t hard to see why a coach may pass on a player who constantly spews controversial opinions and foul language on social media.
But, Shipley said, for a program considering investing four years and thousands of dollars in a player, it can be helpful.
“It tells you where the heart is, where the mind is a lot of times, who their friends are by the stuff their friends post,” Shipley said.
Pros using Twitter
While a lot of attention is paid to high school and college athletes and their use of social media, the pratfalls do not stop at graduation.
Former Copperas Cove standout Robert Griffin III was recently involved in an online controversy after defending his opinion on Twitter — a platform the Washington Redskins quarterback routinely uses to interact with his 1.21 million followers.
On the heels of a 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay, Griffin said in a postgame press conference that his teammates needed to step up, resulting in a cutting response from head coach Jay Gruden.
From there, Griffin took to Twitter to voice his displeasure, causing some to question his tactics.
While Griffin’s issues with social media have been relatively minor, sometimes it can lead to more serious interactions.
Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall recently challenged a fan to a fight on Twitter after the man insulted Marshall on Instagram, calling his mother an obscene term.
The Bears quickly put an end to the potential fight, but the issue remains.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined for criticizing officials on Twitter, professional players were fined for tweeting during games, and other athletes landed in hot water for pictures posted on their social media accounts.
Rules and regulations
Despite maintaining his own account and understanding the consequences of irresponsible posts, Shipley doesn’t closely police his players when it comes to Twitter, Instagram and other social media.
But he does regularly remind his players of those consequences, and all of his position coaches follow the players on social media.
Specific rules regarding social media, for the most part, aren’t the norm in high school athletics, but coaches regularly remind players what they post affects themselves and the rest of the team.
“(Belton players) understand the importance, how serious it is when you put something out there at the spur of the moment that you don’t think that maybe could come back and haunt you,” Shipley said.
Kenny Arnold is the name on the roster beside No. 14, but on Twitter, the Killeen High quarterback goes by Kenny Football or @KennDogg_ and is followed by 846 Kangaroo fans, teammates, opponents and media outlets.
For Arnold, social media served another purpose this season. After having a breakout season as a junior, Arnold hopes to get attention from colleges.
“I didn’t know recruiters were on Twitter,” Arnold said. “They actually contacted me on a direct message and asked me if I needed help. It’s actually pretty cool.”
Arnold took command of the starting quarterback spot early in the season and ended up throwing for 2,214 yards and 16 touchdowns, adding five rushing scores.
For him, and many athletes who play high school football in the new millennium, one of the postgame rituals includes grabbing his cellphone in the locker room and checking Twitter to get updates on games from across the state.
“I follow a lot of different people from schools in the district,” Arnold said.
Social media also is an outlet for good-natured ribbing.
Before Killeen’s season finale against Shoemaker, Arnold, 17, took part in some barbs with Shoemaker players. Comments that normally would have been reserved for pregame warm-ups made their way online.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Arnold said. “It just gets everyone involved and makes the game more exciting.”