Tweet at Your Own Risk: If You are a Student-Athlete, It Could Get You Expelled
The Sports Blawg with the Fordham Sports Law Forum
On January 18, 2012, the highly touted high school cornerback Yuri Wright was expelled from school for “sexually graphic and racial” tweets. Wright is currently ranked 40th in ESPNU’s Top 150 Football Recruits for the class of 2012. The Huffington Post has provided a link to view some of Wright’s tweets. Please be advised that they are sexually explicit.
Wright was a student-athlete at Don Bosco Prep High School, a Catholic school with a nationally recognized football program in Ramsey, New Jersey. While the University of Michigan backed off recruiting the US Army All-American Bowl participant after his expulsion, he has verbally committed to Colorado. In the meantime, Wright has deleted his twitter account and will have to search for a high school to finish his senior year.
Situations such as Wright’s are relatively infrequent in high schools, college and professional athletes have often had to face consequences as a result of their social media use. From Gilbert Arenas’ twitter rants to Rashard Mendehall’s controversial tweets about the death of Osama bin Laden, controversial views posted on social media will continue to draw widespread attention.
There are obvious First Amendment concerns implicated when an organization – especially a school – seeks to control online speech. However, the Supreme Court recently declined to enter the fray. Their most recent decision concerned a high school student, leaving the NCAA and professional leagues to be largely self-governing in their social media policies. It seems as though college athletes are under much greater scrutiny because the NCAA is a more highly regulated environment. However, unlike professional leagues, the NCAA has no set regulations for what is acceptable social media use for student athletes; instead, it leaves it up to the institutions to deal with Twitter or Facebook issues on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, many colleges and universities have implemented strict, uniform social media policies that apply to all students, athletes or not.
Left to their own devices, universities and professional sports leagues have taken different approaches to controlling athlete social media use. Most notably, several college football coaches banned the use of Twitter by their student-athletes this season. Most professional leagues, including the NBA, only ban social media during games and for a short time span before and after the game is played.
To some, schools and leagues may be violating one’s right to free speech. To others, especially coaches and league executives, athletes are abusing their right to free speech and the athletes deserve punishment when they harm a school or team’s reputation.
Yuri Wright’s predicament begs the question – is there any justification for potentially ruining a young student-athlete’s future by expelling them for violating social media policies? Arguments can be made either way. Wright had received numerous warnings from his school administration to cease tweeting such vulgar content. However, he is also a teenager given an unlimited platform to express himself. While this issue of social media use radiates throughout professional, college, and now high school sports, one can argue that we should seek to educate these athletes on how to make the most positive use of social media and not punish or completely take away their expression. Only time will tell how this area of sports will be regulated.
For further discussion surrounding this topic, consider attending the 16th Annual Fordham Sports Law Symposium at Fordham University School of Law on March 30, 2012.
The Fordham Sports Law Forum is dedicated to bringing interesting issues in sports law to the Fordham legal community. Each week, in conjunction with the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, members of the Fordham Sports Law Forum write posts about current sports law issues and events.
Katherine DeStefano graduated from Georgetown University where she also served as head team manager for the Georgetown women’s basketball team for four years. Katherine is the Vice President for the Fordham Sports Law Symposium taking place this spring.