Athletes Who Got in Trouble with Social Media

Heather Satterfield Heather Satterfield, Marketing Manager

Social media now plays a huge role in our public as well as private lives. For most people, this doesn’t pose a problem. For those who are very well known, however, it can lead to embarrassing and even catastrophic circumstances. We’ve seen this happen numerous times with athletes. An offensive tweet has gotten quite a few athletes in trouble. Let’s look at a few such cases, as well as some ideas on how such problems can be avoided.

College Athletes

In some ways, college athletes need to be even more careful than professionals in their online as well as offline behavior. They are in danger of sabotaging their potential careers, which have not even officially started. Many college athletes, however, have been rather careless in this regard. Here are a few examples.

  • Thomas de Thaey. De Thaey, who is originally from Belgium, was a forward for the basketball team at North Carolina State University. An unfortunate tweet got him a great deal of unwanted publicity. Frustrated with his lack of playing time, He tweeted about his head coach: “That’s what happens when you’re a great recruiter, but a terrible coach!” De Thaey eventually left the team, apparently to take care of his ailing father.
  • Jamal Shuman. Shuman, a football player at Elon College, was also angry about not getting enough playing time. He launched a series of obscene tweets that resulted in him being indefinitely suspended. Shuman later claimed that he didn’t realize that the tweets could be publicly read.
  • Bradley Patterson. A football player at the University of Alabama, Patterson got into trouble by tweeting insulting comments about President Obama. He was kicked off the team, proving that it’s not a good idea for athletes to publicly insult political leaders.

Professional Athletes

Professionals, who should know better, are hardly immune from making serious social media mistakes. Here are just a few recent examples.

  • Dave Bess. This football player, who had already been in trouble in the past for using drugs, made the blunder of taking a photo of marijuana in his home and posting it to Twitter. Although he deleted the tweet soon after, the damage was already done.
  • Lance Armstrong. The famous cyclist, who is best known for doping scandals, once accidentally tweeted his private cell phone number. He had thought that he was sending a direct message rather than a public tweet. As a result, he had to change his number.
  • Ray Rice. This running back for the Baltimore Ravens once tweeted “Just got pulled over for my tints Smh but gave the officer a autograph for his son and he let me go.” In other words, he publicly admitted to having bribed a police officer. There were no serious repercussions for this, but it certainly showed poor judgment.

Olympic Athletes

Olympic athletes have their share of social media controversies as well. Olympics rules regarding social media are quite strict. For example, athletes are not allowed to endorse products that are not official Olympics sponsors.

  • Michel Mortadella. This soccer player from Switzerland was expelled from the London Olympics for posting a racist tweet about South Korean players. He made this comment shortly after his team lost to the South Koreans.
  • Stephanie Rice. The Australian swimming star lost a lucrative sponsorship deal from Jaguar due to a homophobic tweet. She also had to give up a luxury car that Jaguar had been letting her use.
  • Paraskevi Papachristou. This Greek pole jumper made a racist tweet during the 2012 Summer Olympics about Africans in Greece. Although she claimed it was just a joke, she was barred from competing after making this tweet.

Not Knowing the Rules of Social Media

The above are just a few examples of social media mistakes made by athletes. There are several lessons to be learned from these incidents. One of the most elementary of these lessons is that people, particularly those who are in the public eye, should educate themselves about how social media works.

When it comes to Twitter, it’s fairly common for people to mistakenly post public tweets when they intended to send a direct message. In many instances, athletes quickly deleted the objectionable tweet. This, of course, doesn’t help much when you have a huge following. Someone will have surely retweeted it by the time you delete it, even if it’s only a matter of seconds. This is another example of athletes needing to understand how social media operates for the famous.

The Need for Caution

In many cases, disastrous social media gaffes are the result of mere carelessness or tweeting after having a few drinks. This brings us to the next issue, which is the need for athletes to exercise caution when using social media. Many athletes are young and not accustomed to fame. Of course, social media gaffes are also made by seasoned veterans as well. Either way, coaches, managers and team owners should make sure that athletes understand the potential dangers of social media. Perhaps they need a special seminar on the topic.

A good argument can be made that people today are too sensitive and that political correctness has gotten out of control. It’s also arguable that athletes and other celebrities are held to unrealistic standards. After all, who doesn’t occasionally say something stupid, whether on or offline? This is, however, besides the point. Athletes need to understand that, whether it’s fair or not, they are held to a higher standard than the average person. The same is true for anyone who is very well-known, whether they be actors, politicians or CEOs. When you are seen as a role model, people are less forgiving if you make even the slightest mistake. In addition, controversies always make great headlines.

For these reasons, athletes and those who work on their behalf must be extra careful about how they use Twitter and other social media sites. It’s not worth ruining a lucrative career, or even a sponsorship deal, for a few words carelessly typed on a keyboard.

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