Student athletes’ communication behind the scene: Regulated or not?

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Humphrey Han

Colleges and universities have been putting more attention on “locker room talk.” Some universities suspended athletes from playing because of inappropriate speech or behavior off the field.

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Humphrey Han

National Anthem presentation before the men’s basketball game between Michigan State and Wisconsin on Feb. 26 at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.

In October, The Harvard Crimson newspaper leaked details from an online “scouting report” that a men’s soccer player wrote and circulated among his teammates in July 2012. The nine-page document included the photos of the women’s soccer players and made judgments based on their looks, gave them nicknames and speculated about their favorite sexual positions. When the school learned that the men’s team had written similar documents as recently as 2016, it canceled the rest of their season.

MSU Executive Associate Athletics Director Jim Pignataro said universities should take this kind of issue seriously and educate student athletes to create a healthier environment.

“As a university, we don’t tolerate any kinds or forms of harassment,” said Pignataro. “Here we have personal development workshops and a training program that helps student athletes be aware of relationship violence and provides guidelines for them to manage their behaviors. We also have what we would call ‘Train the Trainers.’ We have people that train our staff on how to work with student athletes based on all areas of student affairs.”

It’s been challenging for universities to balance student athletes’ freedom of speech and regulating their public and private communication. MSU women’s basketball student manager Yuchen Huang said universities should at least protect athletes’ private communication.

“I think we shouldn’t regulate their private communication because it is also kind of a respect for them,” said Huang. “Everyone has their right to talk, no matter what kind of topic … maybe bad, maybe good … but everybody has their own right.”

Pignataro said university officials expect every employee and every student athlete to represent Michigan State with respect, integrity and accountability.

“Each coach has the ability to determine what that culture is, based on a set of core values that we have at the athletic department,” said Pignataro. “On top of that, each program has their own set of criteria and values as well.”

Pignataro said that the first step in regard to social media is education.

“We do not restrict their usage,” said Pignataro. “They are free to use social media as their own platform, however, we have mandatory workshops that take place for all student athletes three days prior to their school starting that talk about their brands. We’ll teach them how does your profile and footprint on social media reflect who you are as a person.”

Huang emphasized that student athletes should be responsible for their behaviors and speaking. If they don’t follow the guidelines, there must be consequences.

“There are some possible outcomes if they violate the rules,” said Huang. “They may kick off from the team, suspend for playing or their scholarship could be stopped.”

MSU Men’s Tennis Head Coach Gene Orlando said student athletes sign to be part of the program so they have to follow the rules and act in a positive manner as athletes.

“We can’t take away their freedom,” said Orlando. “However, everyone needs to be smart about what they put on their own social media.”

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