For High School Student-Athletes, A Lesson on the Dangers of Twitter

These days, it’s no secret that college football recruiting is big business. Division I teams spend entire calendar years searching for and then recruiting the next big thing. Some high school student-athletes wait until signing day to declare where they plan to spend the next three or four years of their lives. Some give a verbal commitment before they’ve even fully reached puberty, like Delaware prep QB David Sills, who, at 13 years old, verbally committed to USC in 2010.

With all the national attention given to the process and the players, it’s easy to forget that these kids are, well, exactly that: kids. Gunner Kiel, for example, was recently criticized for verbally committing first to Indiana before changing his mind and committing to LSU, before changing his mind again and committing to Notre Dame. We expect these young men to act like grown adults, but try to think back to when you were 18 years old. Personally, I changed my mind multiple times in trying to decide what to eat for lunch, never mind trying to make a decision about what school was best for my future, both academically and athletically. Add on to that the national exposure and pressure put on these kids from family, friends, and coaching staffs, and it’s not surprising these kids occasionally experience indecision.

Yuri Wright (rivals.com)

Also not surprising? The latest trend in college football recruiting: the rescinding of football scholarships to athletes who misbehave on Twitter. This story recently gained national attention, especially among recruiting websites, when Yuri Wright, a senior from Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, NJ, was expelled from his school over sexually explicit and racially charged tweets. Before the expulsion, Wright ranked 40th on ESPNU’s top 150 high school athletes and was recruited by schools in the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, and Big East before ultimately deciding on his dream school, the University of Michigan. After the expulsion, however, Wright lost his scholarship to Michigan, and several other big time programs as well. Wright isn’t the first athlete to lose a scholarship over his Twitter use, and he won’t be the last either. Last week, three-star athlete Marzett Geter from Pennsylvania lost his scholarship to Pittsburgh due to critical comments he made on Twitter. For Geter, the consequences were greater than for Wright. Wright’s talent on the field made up for his foolishness off the field, as he was still able to commit to the University of Colorado, a DI program. Geter’s talent was not as strong, and he recently committed to Division II program Slippery Rock, a far cry from the glamour of Division I NCAA football.

The recent examples should serve as a warning to high school student-athletes being recruited by top programs in the country. Universities are watching, and the NCAA is, so far, okay with that. The NCAA limits the number of phone calls a coach can make to a recruit, and text messages are banned altogether. Far less regulated though is Social Media, which includes the popular service Twitter. Universities are taking advantage, using social networks like Twitter and Facebook to follow athletes and send direct messages to them. They also get to see who athletes are friends with or what other programs they are following. In a recent story for ESPN, Florida coach Will Muschamp identified another benefit , telling the site that social media provides another glimpse into a player’s character. According to Muschamp, this means that, “kids need to understand that they have to be very careful about what they do on social media.”

That’s a message that often goes in one ear and out the other when talking about high school boys who typically possess an aura of invincibility. Wright certainly didn’t get the message, despite numerous warnings from coaches and school administrators to either change the content of his tweets or drop the popular micro-blogging service completely. Time will tell if other top recruits will use these recent examples as a lesson in their own use. Currently, seven of the top ten high school recruits are on Twitter, including the top five high school student-athletes.

There is one athlete who did erase his Twitter account: the aforementioned Yuri Wright. For some student-athletes, even 140 characters can be too much to handle.

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