Athletes need guidance for Twitter use

By Gregory Cappis

I would like to pass along some valuable knowledge that I learned from one of my high school teachers: Do not post anything on the Internet that you do not want to see on the front of the newspaper. I was lucky enough to receive this advice when Facebook still required a college email address to join, and people thought tweeting was a sound birds make.

Sadly, not everyone has been blessed with such great advice at a young age, or any age at all, as exemplified by Elon University’s senior running back Jamal Shuman.

After a 48-28 loss to Wofford College on Oct. 29, in which he had only one reception for 5 yards, Shuman went on a Twitter rant. These tweets included, “Gotta a n—a on da sideline lik Ima f–kin scrub wen I f–kin no I’m one of the best on dis squad but who will f–kin no if I dnt fckn play,” and five others with just as many expletives that put down his coaches and fellow teammates.

It was apparent that he was naive about his actions—bashing his coaches and teammates on a world stage. Even after a warning by someone else on Twitter, Shuman did not understand his audience.

“I no everybody that’s following me bro nd not one of them is from the athletic department sir,” Shuman responded to the friendly advice. His three consecutive tweets were “do I no u?” to people who had re-tweeted his textual lashings.

I’m not trying to knock Shuman’s level of intelligence. He must be a bright young man, because he attends the No. 2-ranked Southern regional university, according to U.S. News and World Report. Shuman should have known ridiculing his coaching staff and teammates online was not the best way to vent his


The athletic department, teachers, friends, family members and other authority figures in Shuman’s life should have educated him about the impact of his actions on the Internet. There were warning signs. Shuman routinely tweeted about parties and debauchery before making his account private after his Twitter tirade went viral.

Shuman would not have had to spend the rest of his Halloween weekend apologizing, deleting tweets and asking others to take down his re-tweets if someone would have previously warned him about the consequences of his actions. He has since been suspended indefinitely from the football team.

The one thing Shuman did right was wait until the game ended to rip into Elon’s coaching staff and turn his teammates into collateral damage. Both the NBA and NFL have banned posting in the middle of games after incidents in both sports where athletes tweeted from the sidelines.

On Aug. 31, the International Olympic Committee published its guidelines for social media usage during the 2012 London Olympic Games. According to the document, the IOC encourages athletes to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, nowhere in the report does it ban athletes from posting in the middle of competitions.

In a perfect world, it shouldn’t have to. Olympic-caliber athletes should know to refrain from in-game tweets, but professional athletes have proven us wrong before, and I’m sure amateur athletes competing in the games will offer compelling tweets like Shuman did this weekend.

This lack of a ban from the IOC could make the Olympics even more exciting. I’m anxious for a Michael Phelps tweet of, “Man that fifth taco I ate last night is not agreeing with my stomach,” as he makes the final turn in the 400-meter freestyle. Wouldn’t it be great to read a Russian gymnast’s opinion of the pommel horse judging as he prepares for his floor routine? NBC could run with this and have a live stream of Twitter feeds on the telecast. It would be like entering the minds of the world’s greatest athletes—entertaining, but probably not in the best interest of the games. There has to be a line drawn between competition and entertainment.

We hold athletes to an extremely high—sometimes unfair—standard, yet we are setting them up to fail. We’re all learning this technology as it comes out, so it’s fair to say not everyone understands what they’re doing. Athletic directors, agents, teachers and parents need to step up to the plate and drill it into the minds of children that posting things on the Internet is like printing a headline on the front page of the New York Times—it’s there for the world to see.