On Tuesday Washington State coach Mike Leach told reporters that his football team is banned from tweeting, effective immediately. Any Wazzu player caught tweeting is subject to immediate suspension.
When asked what prompted the decision, Leach said, "I decided."
This hardline stance is particularly fun coming from a coach who could very well be mistaken for a rambling homeless person if you catch him at the wrong press conference. But Leach isn't the first one to make this move. Florida State, South Carolina, and Nebraska are just a few other programs that have told football players to stay off Twitter, and it's likely that others will follow suit over the next few years.
Urban Meyer sorta banned Twitter when he took over at Ohio State, then apparently softened his stance, and nine months later an Ohio State player tweeted this...
...setting off a tornado of stupidity that definitely wasn't fun for anyone associated with Ohio State football. So, okay: Twitter can be problematic. Let's talk about banning twitter.
There are a few reasons any Twitter ban is obnoxious.
1. People are stupid. Half the time people freak out over athletes' tweets, the offending tweet is a rap lyric. Example: A Florida State player who quoted a Lil Boosie lyric about killing police and it led to the Florida state police releasing a statement saying, "For a Florida State University Football player to publicly advocate the murder of police officers is outrageous and hateful. His disparaging language was racist, provocative and violent in an attempt to incite others to violence."
It's not to defend the sentiment, but if people read that kid's tweet as a rap lyric instead of a call-to-arms, the reaction would be different. Then he's stupid for posting an offensive lyric, not evil for wanting to kill cops.
Athletes say a lot of truly stupid things, but just as often, there's a cultural disconnect that underlies the shock and outrage when people see stray screenshots of "vulgar" tweets proving our culture's imminent downfall. Banning Twitter basically sides with the confused old white people, doesn't it?
2. Football coaches are not God. There's nothing more unbearable than the Omnipotent Football Coaches of 2012. It's bad enough that everyone seems to love angry, control-freak coaches (ROLL TIDE), but now they want to tell players what they can and can't do on the internet. It would be like a coach banning AOL Away Messages because they might be seen by the wrong people. There are ways to educate players and give them guidelines to follow without banning social media altogether, but college coaches won't do this, mostly because they don't need to make the effort. It's much easier to just ban it, and there's nobody around to tell them they can't.
3. Free speech. This is a perfect example of situation that compels stupid people to say, "This isn't about free speech! They're free to say whatever they want! They just have to live with the consequences." WELL ... When you start creating new consequences for speaking out, guess what? YOU'RE RESTRICTING FREE SPEECH.
We don't need to get preachy, but let's just be honest about exactly what's happening. If you're asking a player to choose between tweeting about the new Kendrick Lamar album or quitting the team and losing his scholarship, that player's freedom is being compromised.
Considering most of these schools--and athletic programs--are publicly funded, it's an ugly precedent. Washington State football is not a private business, and shouldn't act like one.
On the other hand:
COLLEGE KIDS ARE IDIOTS.
This point cannot be overstated. At least five times a month I see a college kid say something awful on Twitter and thank God that Twitter wasn't around when I was in college.
There are exceptions to this rule--like UNC's Kendall Marshall last year--but on the whole, college kids are idiots. They do and say things for shock value, they have no concept of how they stupid they sound to normal human beings who aren't in college partying 4-days-a-week, and almost as a rule, we all look back at our college years and cringe in horror at what we did/said/wanted to be.
Oh, and also:
TWEETING IS SO, SO STUPID.
Seriously. Twitter is a great information resource and can be entertaining 24 hours-a-day. But tweeting? Even the world itself single-handedly makes 2012 a dumber place. There's an 80-90 percent you have nothing important to add about the Oscars, or that 30for30 episode, or the new Kendrick Lamar album. If you are a college student tweeting, that percentage becomes 99.9.
The athletes who use Twitter in a smart, promotional way are ten times more annoying than the ones who screw around and tweet rap lyrics. With all due respect, give me fake Ryan Mallet, not real Matt Barkley. And schools like USC--who puts every player's Twitter name on the scoreboard--are even more obnoxious.
Nobody needs to follow star athletes to see them tweet #Leggggoo before games, #RiseAndGrind before weightlifting sessions, and re-tweet Drake. Everyone will survive. And if a team getting rid of Twitter means preventing even one horrible PR mess because a someone's never heard a Lil Boosie song, then it's all worth it. If any star college athletes really want to speak out about social issues and use their influence, there are literally hundreds of available reporters who will listen, and then we can all re-tweet their articles, saying "THIS." and it'll be like nothing ever changed.
So that's where we stand, I think. There are a lot of good reasons to hate the idea of Twitter bans, but in the end, "College kids are idiots" and "Tweeting is stupid" are two points that just cannot be argued. We will miss funny college athlete tweets, but it's for the best, and it's only a matter of time before major programs across the country make this move.