Athletes should be cautious online

Jane Meier, Athletic Director at Northern Kentucky University, is among many others in her profession concerned about the potential risks students take by uploading content onto the internet.

As a result of such recent occurrences as the dismissal of two Nebraska wrestlers for appearing on a pornographic Web site and the surfacing of pictures of University of Iowa football players holding alcohol, which led to their dismissal, university athletic departments across the nation have made it a priority to establish policies and codes of conduct for their athletes to abide by when using the internet.

For the Norse student-athletes, however, policies regulating their use of social networking sites-such as MySpace and Facebook – are nothing new and have been in effect at NKU for two years.

According to Meier, she didn’t begin to consider social networking sites a threat until she heard about an incident in which an NKU student was evicted from campus housing after housing officials found pictures taken of the student with alcohol in his dorm on the students Facebook page.

At that time, the NKU athletic department didn’t have any official policy regarding the use of such sites, set in place and some coaches began barring their athletes from using the sites at all, Meier said.

Meier, who regards social networking websites as some of the “neatest” communication tools she’s ever seen, said she didn’t feel comfortable not allowing students to use the social networking sites and felt that implementing a policy to guide athletes to continue casting a positive image of the university was a better alternative.

“It’s a students right to use them, and they seem to really enjoy them,” she said. “It just didn’t make any sense to restrict their use.”

According to the policy, student-athletes are not restricted from using any on-line social network sites and digital platforms, but also states that evidence of violations of university policy (e.g., harassing, language, university alcohol or drug policy violations, etc.) in the content of on-line social networks or digital platforms are subject to investigation and sanction under the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Student-Athlete Code of Conduct and other policies.

The policy also features a set of guidelines, which it refers to as the framework for student-athletes to conduct themselves safely and responsibly in an on-line environment, and cautions students to not have a false sense of security about their rights to freedom of speech, and to be careful about what information they post on on-line sites.

The guidelines also warn student-athletes that potential and current employers may have access to information they place online, and to be careful in responding to unsolicited emails asking for secure information, such as passwords.

According to Meier, the department currently does not have any system for which random or regular “spot checking” of student’s profiles are conducted, and issues regarding internet content are only followed up on when brought to the attention of the athletic department, at which point they will follow up on it and take appropriate action.

The main priority of the department in establishing the Northern Kentucky University Department of Athletics Policy on Public Media and Social Networks is to protect the student’s future by cautioning them that once incriminating pictures and content are uploaded to the internet- they can be very difficult to get off, and that such pictures and content do carry the risk of being seen by potential employers, Meier said.

“We know that companies are looking at these Web sites when they’re recruiting,” she said.

Meier added that even university athletic recruiters often look at profiles set up by prospective athletes on social networking websites.