With the advent of social networking sites, schools have been taking more active steps to monitor the content their student-athletes publish on the Internet.

Sites like Facebook and MySpace have given students license to publicize information about themselves – something that raises the stakes for those who have to be held responsible for the actions and online profiles of student-athletes.

One case in particular led athletic departments across the country to pay closer attention to their athletes’ online profiles.

The Northwestern University women’s soccer program was shamed two years ago when it came under fire for a hazing incident. As a result, the entire team was suspended, given mandatory hazing education sessions and probation.

The hazing incident was uncovered when Bob Reno, owner of badjocks.com, published the hazing photos on the Internet.

The hazing pictures, Reno said, had been made available because one of the Northwestern players had posted them on Webshots.com, a site that allows users to share pictures.

Since that episode, many athletic departments are now taking measures to monitor the online content belonging to their athletes. Some programs have given the task to assistant coaches, but some may soon choose to use a new service called YouDiligence – a software program that will scour athletes’ web profiles for any keywords or phrases that may be inappropriate or indicate questionable behavior. Users, who would pay $500 up front and $250 per month for the service, would be responsible for choosing the keywords and phrases.

Though many schools have some way of monitoring their student-athletes and their profiles, none have signed up to use the program yet.

Judy Van Horn, an associate athletic director who works in the University’s compliance office, said she hadn’t heard of YouDiligence.

She said University athletic department officials have their own way of monitoring student-athletes’ Facebook and MySpace profiles and have done it once a semester since August 2006. The purpose of the checks is mainly preventative, she said, aimed at making student-athletes reconsider posting online any material that might portray them in a negative manner.

Van Horn said if any objectionable content were found, the photos or phrases would be forwarded to the student-athlete’s coach, who would then alert the student and take necessary action.

Kinesiology sophomore Stephen Brown, a safety on the football team, said student-athletes are usually required to visit the University’s compliance office if objectionable content is discovered on their profiles. There, an athletic department official will tell them to remove the content. He said the athletic department cautions student-athletes about their online presence annually. Brown said officials monitor profiles for evidence of drinking or drug use, sexually suggestive material or issues like large sums of money that might indicate a violation of NCAA regulations.

All of them, Brown said, “come down to common sense,” he said.

Kinesiology sophomore Greg Mathews, a wide receiver on the football team, said much of the Athletic Department’s advice seems a bit extreme, but he understands the reasoning behind it.

“A lot of the things that they tell us not to do are just outrageous,” Mathews said. “But I guess they’ve been done before, so they’ve got to tell us not to.”

Michael Parke, a co-captain on the men’s soccer team, said he doesn’t think most student-athletes mind the University’s policy.

“Maybe at first they do, because they have to take certain pictures down,” Parke said. “But eventually, I think most people understand that we represent the University and that we have to do that in a positive way.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *