Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, have become extremely popular; they serve as tools to connect individuals in a public forum. However, collegiate student-athletes use social media to send messages that may reflect poorly on their educational institutions. For example, student-athletes have posted profanity, obscene messages, compromising photographs, and even threatened the President of the United States while using social media. These messages create negative publicity for the college since athletics and student-athletes are a visible aspect of the institution. As such, inappropriate social media use has become a major concern with college athletic departments. Because the NCAA requires member institutions to adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity, colleges have responded to the actions by disciplining student-athletes that use social media negatively to voice their opinions; in some cases, this punishment has been as severe as actually dismissing the student-athlete from his or her team. But, how does this action impact the public relations of the athletic department? Further, does it subject the college to possible legal action?
Peter Han, Mark Dodds, Tara Mahoney, and Justin Lovich are with the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland, Cortland, NY. Kristi Schoepfer is with the Sport Management Department at Winthrop University, Winthrop, SC.