“I don’t think social media is helpful to any human being on the planet,” said Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State’s men’s basketball team. Izzo said this in response to a question about whether or not social media was helpful or harmful to his players.
This isn’t the first time Izzo voiced his contempt for social media. And he’s not the first coach to do so.
University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino once said, “I think it’s the great class of underachievers who live … with social media.”
Not a ringing endorsement for using social media. But consider this: Neither Izzo nor Pitino uses social media.
And Izzo is convinced that he can manage what his players do on social media. “I never worry about what my players tweet, never. I can control some of that,” Izzo said.
This makes him either the most naive head coach in college sports or the most uninformed.
In contrast, John Calipari, head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, is a fan of social media. His Twitter account, @UKCoachCalipari, has more than 1.35 million followers, and his tweets tend to be positive, personal messages.
For example, after his team set a record with a 38-0 start to the season only to lose in the semfinals, Calipari tweeted:
That post was retweeted more than 2,700 times and favorited more than 4,600 times. Apparently, a few thousand people found Calipari’s social media message helpful, maybe even inspirational.
The truth is, Izzo and coaches like him are setting up their players for failure by denying them and their fans an ability to connect on social media. The players, some who will go on to professional careers in the NBA or leagues in other countries, are being robbed of an opportunity to establish and manage their online personal brands.
Even the ones who don’t become professional athletes (most of them won’t) are being deprived of the joy of connecting with others — family, friends, fans.
This isn’t to suggest all coaches should give carte blanche access to all social media for all players. Some guidance and monitoring is needed. Izzo and other coaches are right to be concerned about those who would use social media to post insensitive, racist and sexist comments about players and coaches (and how players react to those posts).
However, some companies now offer services to assist coaches with training their student-athletes about how to use social media competently and responsibly.
Fieldhouse Media, for example, helps train student-athletes to use social media effectively. The goal is to help coaches and players understand the risks and rewards of social media use, and how to avoid those who mean to do them harm.
The tools are there for Izzo and others to help their players prepare for life in social media after college sports. Now they just have to use them.
~ A version of this post appeared in the Sunday, April 12, 2015 "Connection" section of The Vindicator newspaper.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.