Student-Athlete Censorship at Two Big Time Schools

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

Ever since social media became popular, and the number of users of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter skyrocketed, people have always been warned to be cautious of how they present themselves online. High school students often change their last names so that college admissions counselors can’t find them and college students often deactivate their accounts during the job-hunting process. Additionally, those smart enough to ensure that their social media presence is spotless avoid posting any racy photos or any stories describing their weekend shenanigans. However, it has not been common for authorities to outwardly prevent someone from doing these things if they so choose.  Yet recent developments prove that this censorship of social media may soon become an increasing trend.

This past summer, the International Olympic Committee came up with a whole list of guidelines for athletes to follow when posting Tweets or Facebook posts. In an attempt to preserve the sanctity of the Olympics and its name, many of the guidelines seemed harmless, but others, such as the ban against promoting one’s sponsors (if they weren’t official sponsors of the Olympics) caused resentment among many athletes. To be reminded of this, check out this story: American athletes lead revolt against IOC ban on social media use to promote sponsors.

This censorship trend has since moved into the realm of college sports, specifically two schools in the state of Kentucky. According to this article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are banning their student athletes from using upwards of 400 different words on Twitter. Though most of them are the names of various sports agents, the remaining terms tend to be those associated with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. If these words are used by the student-athletes, the image of “Big Brother is Watching” comes to mind, since coaches will be alerted to this through special monitoring software.

Now, I’m all for preserving one’s reputation and wanting to present oneself in the best light possible, but has this ban taken it a step too far? How about the monitoring software – are college sports becoming Orwellian? Maybe that’s over-thinking it a little, but isn’t there any other way to ensure the dignity of one’s school and program without infringing on First Amendment rights and banning student-athletes from using certain words? I understand that in theory, athletes should know themselves that certain words should not be used in their Tweets but in reality, this does not always happen. So what’s the best solution? Let us know what you think below!


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  • Jeff Roy
    September 4, 2012

    Depending on the activity, private employers have the right to curtail speech. But in the case of these college athletes, UK and UL are state institutions and are attempting to prohibit the use of certain words.

    If the schools claim employers’ rights even if they are public entities, then the players are employees and due all state and federal rights. This would include the right to strike for better conditions and to collectively bargain.

    This is an Orwellian intrusion, and hope the ACLU takes the case.

  • bowtiesportsguy
    September 15, 2012

    I think we tend to throw around the phrase “violation of my First Amendment rights” a little too often. Reasonable restrictions on a student-athlete’s speech is hardly a violation of the First Amendment. An outright ban of the use of social media might get you closer to a violation of First Amendment Rights. But even then, the contractual relationship between school and student-athlete is likely such that the student-athlete contracted away their First Amendment rights when they signed their financial aid agreement.