At the end of 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the 17 private colleges competing in the FBS can no longer limit athletes’ use of social media. The schools have to allow their athletes to openly post what they want on social media and have access to the media.In recent years, the public has been paying more attention to whether student athletes’ voices are being heard because student athletes are treated differently than the rest of students on the same campus in terms of freedom of speech.
Prior to the NLRB’s ruling, Northwestern’s rulebook on speaking with the media stated that “all media request for interviews with student athletes must be made through athletic communications.” However, after the ruling, the rulebook has been revised as “if you are contacted directly by the media, you have the option of referring the media representative to the athletic communications office for a response or to personally speak with the media representative.” The ruling would primarily affect how private schools operate and this would include major college athletics programs such as Duke, Stanford, Miami and Notre Dame.
MSU Men’s Tennis Head Coach Gene Orlando points out it’s important that student athletes express their feelings, but at the same time, they are representing something bigger than them.
“Student athletes should be responsible,” said Orlando. “They need to follow the code of conduct about how they represent themselves and the program.”
Tennis player Colin Harvey said athletes should be treated just like the rest of students on campus in terms of expressing themselves.
“We can use social media as a positive outlet more than a negative one,” Harvey said. “I think just because we are athletes doesn’t mean we can’t do it correctly.
“I also think our voice is heard in the athletic world. I think the NCAA does a very good job talking to representatives that we have in Michigan State and our representatives do a very good job talking to us.”
MSU Middle-Distance Runner Aubrey Wilberding said social media is a great way to interact and suggests student athletes seek advice before posting some sensitive content on the social media.
“One of my teammates wanted to post something about a struggle she had with running,” Wilberding said. “She went to my coach asking for advice on how to portray so that she could articulate what she wanted to articulate without going to the wrong way.”
Therefore, the key of this issue is to build trust between athletic officials and student athletes. Universities should protect athletes’ rights carefully, by the meantime, student athletes should be responsible for their voice to protect not only their own public image but also their athletic programs’ or even universities’.
“Things that we post don’t go away,” said Wilberding. “So before posting anything, try to think about why you doing and maybe what the consequences are.”