Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State is keeping a watchful eye on what its athletes do on social media.
In an exclusive interview with The Lantern on March 12, athletic director Gene Smith said OSU monitors its student-athletes on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
“We track, so we see you as an athlete saying something on Twitter, or you’ve got something on your Facebook page that’s inappropriate or derogatory, we’ll come to you,” Smith said. “We’ll pull you in. They know we track, and so we do not have a policy to say you can’t do Facebook or Twitter or any of those other things.”
But an error in judgement could cost the athletes.
“If you see somebody with a Colt .45 and $500 bills in their hand at a Christmas party, then you got to go and pull them in,” Smith said.
While Smith appeared to mean that as an example of an especially severe case, keeping tabs on about 1,100 student-athletes can be an arduous task.
To accomplish such a feat, OSU uses the help of a company called Jump Forward, which produce recruiting and compliance tools for college athletic departments, to monitor everything.
Diana Sabau, OSU associate athletics director of external relations, said Jump Forward’s services, though, are based on a retainer agreement and that the athletic department does not “actively” monitor its student-athletes.
Rather, she said, Jump Forward serves as a “safeguard” with the option to track athletes or not.
Additionally, Sabau said she did not know the value of the deal between Jump Forward and OSU. An OSU athletic department spokesman did not return requests for comment.
While Jump Forward could not be reached by The Lantern for comment, Smith explained how the company serves their needs.
“We have a firm,” Smith said. “We have a long list of words that they track and we also have people that monitor repeat offenders, so they actually follow people.”
It’s seemingly a line of work that, while relatively young, is booming as the social media galaxy continues to expand.
Similar to Jump Forward, Fieldhouse Media (which provides services to about 30 schools including Arkansas, Wichita State, and Coastal Carolina), works to educate and monitor student-athletes.
Its founder, Kevin DeShazo, explained how the process of tracking typically works.
“Our (system) is organized into categories: profanity, sexual, racial, violence, drugs and alcohol. So lets say they send out something that’s racially offensive, (an administrator) is going to get an email that says, ‘Hey, so and so tweeted this.’ And you can bring in the student-athlete and say, ‘Look, this is type of image that you’re building,'” he said.
It’s a way, DeShazo said, “to continually educate student-athletes about what they’re putting online because it’s so easy just to type out 140 characters, hit send and go about your day.”
Compared to tracking companies like Jump Forward, though, DeShazo said Fieldhouse Media only monitors – and has access to – public Twitter accounts.
“Most student-athletes – and people in general – are surprised when they go back and scroll through Twitter feed, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t remember tweeting that.’ Because it’s just become second nature,” he said.
When an athlete tweets something that could be flagged, the tweet registers into the company’s system, which administrators have access to day and night, DeShazo said.
“They can have it open on a browser window on their iPhone, iPad, Android. So when they log in, they’ll see big picture numbers. They first log in and they see totals for every category, they see a big bar chart, so it’s like, ‘OK, profanity, you’ve had 800 hits.’ But then they can click on an individual … and say, ‘OK this individual has hit 18 words in the past 24 hours, 25 in the last week, 100 in the last month,'” he said.
“And then it breaks down how many they’ve hit per category. So you say, ‘OK, this individual, we might need to have a little more detailed conversation with him about things they’re putting on Twitter.'”
But contrary to what might be popular belief, DeShazo said discipline for missteps on social media typically doesn’t warrant drastic punishment.
“I think people always freak out thinking that it always leads to suspensions, very rarely does that happen. A majority of the time, it just leads to a conversation. And we’re seeing results of that because the programs that are doing both – education and monitoring – are seeing a 41 percent drop daily in the number of hits that their department’s getting.”
The foundation to tracking for both DeShazo and Smith is education.
“I don’t think you should restrict, I think you need to educate. If you do it the right way, (social media is) a great tool, it’s a great tool. That’s our biggest challenge,” Smith said.
The biggest problem, he said, is typically with first-year students.
“You’re taking the values from the environment that you grew up in and you’re trying to assimilate those into a new set of values and new behaviors and that takes a little time, you know? I don’t care where you’re from as a first-year student, that takes a little time,” Smith said.
“And we’re not the best at teaching you the rules in week one, you know, you almost need like a two-week seminar, seven hours a day on here’s how you operate at the Ohio State University. We talk about orientation – you don’t learn everything in a short orientation at the Ohio State University or neither do our athletes about the athletic department.”
Education, though, isn’t just limited to athletes – it applies to athletics administrators, too.
“A lot of my job has really been educating administrators because they all were fearful of it because they didn’t understand, which is why they’re banning it or they’re doing some invasive monitoring because they don’t understand, all they see is negative headlines,” DeShazo said.
Why It’s Done
Perhaps the most relevant and memorable example of such bad press is when OSU then-freshman quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted about his discontent with the state of the convergence of student and athlete on Oct. 5, a day before the Buckeyes’ primetime showdown against Nebraska at Ohio Stadium.
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are pointless,” Jones said from his now-defunct Twitter account, @Cordale10.
Jones was held out of OSU’s 63-38 win and DeShazo said it’s a “perfect example” of making a “completely unnecessary” headline.
“That was not a big deal, like breaking news, a college kid hates class. Let’s make this a big deal. I went to school on an academic scholarship – I hated class. This is not news. But that’s how the media is; that’s the narrative that they’re pushing – that students-athletes are immature on social media,” he said.
“That was a dumb tweet, yes. Should he have said it? No. It wasn’t inappropriate or offensive, but it was unnecessary. But it made headlines. And one blog, a well-known blog (“Awful Announcing”) called it the ‘Worst Tweet of 2012.'”
DeShazo said he tells that story to various-student athletes to show them what kind of social media pitfalls they could face.
“This is how people are covering student-athletes on social media, this is the narrative they’re trying to push. You have to be mindful. It wasn’t offensive, it wasn’t inappropriate. The biggest thing that I see in student-athletes is not so much the offensive and inappropriate stuff, it’s tweets like that that are just unnecessary, just noisy. Stuff that’s not adding any value. They just get bored and tweet every day of their lives.”
Smith said he remains confident in the steps OSU has taken to prevent that kind of behavior.
“I feel good that we continue to educate, continue to monitor and attack as soon as you see something,” Smith said. “Get on it right away, don’t delay.”<