For top football recruits, behavior on social media has consequences
Michigan stopped recruiting CB Yuri Wright over comments on his Twitter feed
Many top prospects have made questionable information available to the public
Some programs -- like Arizona -- work to warn athletes of social media's effects
Green-Beckham's 2012 impact on Mizzou
Storylines that defined Signing Day
Top 50 recruits in the class of 2012
The top 15 recruiting classes of all time
In most football locker rooms, the words recruit Yuri Wright used on Twitter tend to pepper casual conversation between teammates -- provided no coaches are around. Most players would not use the kind of language Wright used around their mothers, their grandmothers or their teachers. Nor would they stand before a room packed with more than 1,600 people and repeatedly yell out their favorite slang term for a particular part of a woman's anatomy.
But that is essentially what Wright did. The cornerback from New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep protected his Twitter feed, only allowing those he chose to see his tweets. Still, he allowed more than 1,600 followers to read his musings and then he filled his feed with what appeared to be rejected lyrics from 2 Live Crew's debut album. In the confines of a locker room, this wouldn't be a problem. Teenage boys tend to have foul mouths. Some of the conversations in my high school locker room would make The Aristocrats seem tame. But those conversations remained private because in the mid-90s, only rich people had cell phones and only hardcore nerds used the Web.
In 2012, Wright's side of those conversations became a huge problem.
Michigan stopped recruiting Wright because of his foul tweets. Don Bosco Prep, a Catholic school, expelled Wright for the feed, which has since been taken down. (Screen shots of the tweets litter the web. If you want to read them, they aren't difficult to find.) Wright committed to Colorado this week. This is not a reason to rip Colorado. Wright didn't commit a crime, after all. Still, the words we type have consequences. The maintenance of my own Twitter feed is not a job requirement, but SI would fire me in a heartbeat if I began unleashing streams of profanity on Twitter. My Twitter feed reflects my personal opinions, but those opinions reflect upon my employer.
Wright probably didn't realize that potential coaches were reading his feed. He made a mistake common among the members of his generation. He thought something 1,600 people could read was private.
University of Arizona compliance coordinator Preston Wages understands this mentality and works every day to convince the Wildcats that nothing on the Internet goes unseen forever. Wages, a 2007 graduate of N.C. State who spent his final year of law school working in the compliance office at Arkansas, is young enough to understand and embrace social media and smart enough to know it can torpedo an athlete's reputation. Because he grasps the language of the OMG LOL U MAD? culture better than his coworkers, he is a natural fit to monitor athletes' Twitter feeds and Facebook pages on top of all of his regular compliance duties.
Wages hasn't yet extended his social media education program to players being recruited by Arizona, but he shares his wisdom immediately with athletes upon their arrival to campus. And even though Wages is only a few years older, it never ceases to amaze him how casually some athletes post what should be private thoughts in a public forum. "Some people use it almost like a text message," Wages said. "They don't think it's public. Their friends aren't the only ones looking at their sites."
Recruits would be wise to heed the words of Wages, who explained that privacy settings are effectively meaningless if athletes aren't prudent about who they allow behind the wall. When athletes come to Arizona, Wages sends them friend requests on Facebook and requests to follow protected Twitter feeds. Most, he said, accept the requests without hesitation. While he suspects athletes comply out of respect for his title, Wages knows another method for quick access into the feeds and Facebook pages of the male athletes. He hasn't used it, but he worries that others have. "All I would really have to do is create some fake Twitter account and then put some hot girl's picture on it and pretend to be somebody else," Wages said. "They'd let me right in. ... I've heard that's how some agent runners do it."
Many recruits don't even bother to go to the lengths that Wright did to shield his tweets, and the volume of information available to the public direct from the players' brains is stunning.
Half the players in the top 10 of the Rivals.com rankings have unprotected Twitter feeds that show up as one of the first few items in a Google search of the player's name and the word Twitter. They use Twitter to varying degrees.
Top-ranked recruit Dorial Green-Beckham adores his girlfriend, and he dismisses trolls as politely as possible.
Denton, Texas, defensive tackle Mario Edwards used Twitter on Monday night to confirm the solidifying of his commitment to Florida State.
Sacramento, Calif., safety Shaq Thompson has offered play-by-play for much of his recruitment on Twitter. He has mixed it up with USC fans, and he has questioned his own commitment to Cal following the departure of Bears assistant Tosh Lupoi to Washington.
Noah Spence, a Harrisburg, Pa., defensive end committed to Ohio State, occasionally gets existential.
Jameis Winston, a Hueytown, Ala., quarterback committed to Florida State, might regret chiming in three times Monday on that #ThoughtsDuringSex hashtag.
Meanwhile, fans can follow nearly up-to-the-minute updates of two high-profile recruits. Aziz Shittu, a defensive end from Atwater, Calif., ranked No. 27 in the nation by Rivals.com, detailed his USC official visit last week and even made a pitch for Oregon to recruit him.
Stone Mountain, Ga., tailback Mike Davis had sent 28,989 tweets as of Monday night. Many of those have chronicled his recruitment, which included a commitment to and decommitment from Florida and a commitment to South Carolina.
Am I violating the privacy of these young men by posting these links? Of course not. THEY PUT IT ON THE INTERNET.
And while these feeds probably contain more information than their future coaches would prefer, they aren't dirty. They won't hurt Shittu or Davis or the other players the way that Wright's feed hurt him. In fact, Twitter doesn't have to be a negative for high school or college athletes. Plenty use it to enhance their brand. For examples of two high-profile college athletes who handle Twitter well, look no further than the feeds of USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Missouri shooting guard Kim English.
Of course, some players refuse to play the social media game. Tracy Howard, an elite cornerback from Miramar, Fla., who will choose either Florida, Florida State or Miami on Signing Day, has no Twitter feed. "There is no way he will get a Twitter," Howard's mother, Shaiy, wrote Monday.
And where did she write this? On Twitter, of course.
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