intermat_platinum

Palmer: Matmen behaving badly?

Mark Palmer

6/23/2014
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

The wrestling community has complained about a lack of coverage from the mainstream media as well as general sports publications and websites ... until a wrestler has a run-in with the law, or is suspended by his or her school.

Collectively, fans seem to be of two minds when it comes to reporting on alleged rule-breakers, lawbreakers and those who post questionable material in social media who happen to be college wrestlers. It would appear that most mat fans would rather not know about these situations; this writer has heard from those who say, "You're ruining that kid's life" or "These kinds of stories hurt wrestling's image; why write about it?" Unless the fan supports a rival program. Then it's "Why don't you tell us what's really going on with this clown?" or "His coach should be fired!" or "Typical for that program."

Arrests are part of the public record; in many college communities, arrest records are posted online at police websites and/or at the websites of local or college newspapers, for the entire wrestling world to discover
In the past year or so, there have been a number of incidents involving reports of bad behavior on the part of college wrestlers. Among the examples: a Division III program was shut down for about a week after allegations of hazing and abuse of teammates emerged. A Division I champ was suspended for a month after being charged with DUI. Another Division I starter was suspended after posting anti-gay messages on his Twitter account. More recently, the NCAA revealed that wrestlers from three schools were issued letters of reprimand for inappropriate behavior at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, including a wrestler who put a hole in the wall of a hallway at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Does this mean that college wrestlers are getting into more trouble off-the-mat than previous generations? What are the NCAA and individual programs doing about bad behavior on the part of student-matletes?

Matmen behaving badly: A perspective

Before we continue, let's provide some basic perspective.

First, the focus of this article is to look at behavior outside of competition. We're not exploring illegal holds or allegations of unsportsmanlike behavior during wrestling events.

Second, it would be misleading -- in fact, downright wrong -- to say that inappropriate or law-breaking behavior away from the mat is a rampant problem that is unique to college wrestling. It's not.

Consider some of the sports stories that have been fodder for newspapers, sports networks, sports talk shows, blogs and online forums in the past year or so. A high school football player suspended from school for a sarcastic tweet about a teacher. A NBA team owner making racist and sexist remarks to his lover. A NFL star accused of murdering two men for bumping into him at a club. Another NFL player allegedly terrorized one of his own teammates. High school football players involved in a sexual attack on a female student, with some school coaches and administrators participating in a cover-up. Numerous athletes who have made racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise offensive statements.

This kind of activity isn't limited to athletes. Think of the hubbub caused by the statements or actions of any number of actors, singers, reality show stars or politicians, and you can see that one doesn't have to wear a jockstrap to get in trouble.

Likewise, it would also be wrong to imply that stupid or rule-breaking behavior on the part of college wrestlers is something brand-new, an indicator of suddenly declining moral values or a current generation that's out of control. It was an issue five years ago (remember the two wrestlers at a major Division I program who were booted off the team for appearing naked in photos at a gay website?) and 50 years ago, too.

As someone who has written about the history of college wrestling for the past decade -- and, in the process, read more than his fair share of vintage yearbooks, newspapers and magazines -- I've seen enough examples of wrestlers who found themselves facing punishment from an irate coach, college dean, local judge or even an offended nation to refute any notion that there was no bad behavior in the so-called good old days.

It's safe to say that the vast majority of the situations I've come across in articles from school publications or Amateur Wrestling News involve suspensions for academic reasons -- failure to earn a minimum GPA (grade point average) or failing a required class.

There are also the situations that may not have anything to do with grades, but where a coach may feel that some sort of public punishment may get a wayward wrestler to reverse course. One of the more unusual suspensions involved a collegiate mat champ of a half-century ago. The coach -- one of the all-time legends of the sport -- felt that the wrestler wasn't adequately invested in his college academic and athletic career, so the star was benched. After a couple weeks, the wrestler came back to the coach saying that he had refocused his energies towards the classroom and the practice room, and issued an apology to the coach and his teammates. The once-suspended wrestler went on to become a three-time NCAA champ.

There are times when an athlete engages in behavior of such a serious nature that it brings national attention -- and shame -- to the individual and the school. One such incident of approximately 60 years ago involved a wrestler at one of the most storied mat programs in the nation ... for an incident on the football field. Said athlete deliberately threw more than one punch to the face of an athlete from the opposing team -- according to some sources, perfectly legal at the time -- which resulted in a broken jaw for the rival player. The incident was captured in a sequence of newspaper photos that won a Pulitzer Prize. Allegations swirled that the incident was racially motivated, something that was denied by both the white punch-thrower and the owner of the broken jaw, an African-American. That said, the incident rocked college football in the early 1950s, and resulted in rule and equipment changes.

Why the appearance of MORE bad behavior?

So, why does it appear that there are more examples of inappropriate or even law-breaking behavior in society in general ... and especially on the part of today's student-athletes?

For starters, it may well be a matter of perspective. If you haven't spent endless hours in library archives or online, pouring over old-time newspapers, yearbooks and even coaches' files to see evidence of past incidents -- and have only seen uber-positive written or filmed tributes to wrestlers of the past -- you may think that there was no such thing as bad behavior in the so-called good old days. What's more, unlike, say, athletes in some sports, college wrestlers tend not to write tell-all books. A couple exceptions I've read involve amateur mat stars who become pro wrestlers, and write their memoirs with an eye to delighting their pro fans who suspect that college wrestling is as full of dirty double-dealing as what fans see from today's WWE.

In addition, in the past, most sports writers had an almost worshipful attitude towards athletes -- what George Rugg, sports archivist at University of Notre Dame, described as the "gee whiz" era of sports reporting. Athletes were presented as heroes and role models; misbehavior on or off the field was rarely reported. (This all changed with societal attitudes in the late 1960s, and emergence of athletes such as Jim Bouton, Joe Namath and Jim Brown who were not afraid to speak their minds.)

A plethora of potential pitfalls

A major reason why it might SEEM there are more problem student-athletes is ... more coverage of the sport from designated wrestling media. More magazines and newsletters. More websites such as InterMat. More social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. More blogs. More online forums and discussion groups.

Consider the exponential expansion of wrestling coverage since the early 1950s. Sixty years ago, Sports Illustrated, the first truly national sports media, was born, providing its annual wrap-up of the NCAA championships, and the occasional profile of a top wrestler or coach, for example, the 1957 cover story on Dan Hodge. In 1956, Amateur Wrestling News debuted as the first national wrestling magazine. Fifty years ago, ABC's "Wide World of Sports" provided the first national TV coverage of the NCAA wrestling finals (1963), albeit in highly edited form, weeks after the fact. Thirty-five years ago, ESPN became the first national sports network. Twenty-five years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Less than a decade ago, ESPN started to provide live coverage of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Just this year, ESPN provided its first-ever "every match, every mat" coverage of the Division I Nationals.

Before this explosion of coverage -- back in what is often referred to as the good old days -- if a college wrestler got in trouble, it's likely that no one outside the team, school or local community would have been aware of it, unless the athlete was a nationally-recognized star (a conference or national champ, for instance). Then Amateur Wrestling News and/or Sports Illustrated might have written about his suspension, since fans across the nation might otherwise wonder, "Why isn't Joe Blow at the NCAAs?"

Now, thanks to the Internet, the world is a much smaller place. News of alleged bad behavior now travels well beyond the wrestler's school or hometown. In a matter of minutes, fans across the country and around the world know what would have been very much a local story, "just among us friends" a quarter-century ago.

Another aspect -- there are more online opportunities for athletes to find themselves in trouble. Think about all the new venues of communication now available to athletes -- not just online forums, but also Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, to name a few -- that could take down a wrestler if he were to post a message, photo or video judged inappropriate. Social media seems tailor-made for today's athletes. To those of us who would be considered members of an "older generation", current athletes would appear to be more open and disclosing than their parents or grandparents. These athletes may view those connected to them on Twitter or Facebook as all being friends. This writer has observed numerous occasions where a wrestler has revealed information that, in previous generations, might not have been known outside an athlete's circle of closest friends or teammates. Some are amusing: wrestlers who publicly revealed they were receiving a major honor in advance of an official announcement ... or another who told the world he spotted his first chest hair. Sometimes, athletes post public comments on upcoming opponents or match outcomes that heretofore would have been unknown to wrestling fans and journalists.

A changing landscape beyond new technology

Newer technology tools such as the Internet and the proliferation of wrestling websites, forums and social media aren't the only reasons why it appears that college wrestlers may have more opportunity to get in trouble.

Societal norms about what is "bad behavior" have changed. A prime example is attitudes about drinking and driving. Yet another: incidents in the past that might have been dismissed as "boys being boys" are now being prosecuted as sexual assault.

In addition, in the past, there was also a line of thinking that sought to protect young people -- especially athletes -- from having to endure public humiliation or punishment. Not that many years ago, situations involving alleged inappropriate or illegal behavior on the part of teenagers or even college-age students were not reported in the local media, and, if not handled in the juvenile justice system, might not be prosecuted at all. It was rare for cases involving minors to be handled in the adult criminal justice system. In an extreme example from fifty years ago which took place less than two miles where this writer lives, a teenage girl was bludgeoned to death on her way home from a dance, allegedly by her teenage boyfriend. A local judge essentially adopted the accused teenager, sparing him a potential trial and jail time. The alleged killer is now a successful local businessman.

This "spare the child" attitude may have sprung from outrage at how some young people were treated (and mistreated) by the criminal justice system 80-100 years ago ... as well as reform movements that sought to rehabilitate young offenders with the idea that could prevent future crime. However, increases in crime rates in the 1970s, 80s and 90s paved the way for tougher sentencing and more situations in which youthful offenders were treated as adults.

What are the rules? Asking the NCAA ...

With changes in technology and societal norms seeming to provide more opportunities for student-athletes to get in trouble, what are the rules to protect college wrestlers from situations that could, at minimum, cause embarrassment, and, at maximum, result in expulsion from school or even prison time?

The NCAA puts out a rulebook -- officially titled "Wrestling: 2013-14 and 2014-15 Rules and Interpretations" -- which has over 140 pages devoted to the regulations governing collegiate wrestling for NCAA Divisions I, II and III. In words -- and, when necessary, in photos and diagrams -- the book provides clear explanations of the fundamental rules for everything from eligibility to weigh-in procedures to acceptable uniforms to mat requirements to how matches are to be wrestled.

Within the opening pages of the rulebook -- immediately after the table of contents and a recap of what's new in this edition -- is a page with the header "Codes of Conduct" with separate sections for Coaches, Referees, and Student-Athletes. The "Student-Athletes' Statement of Conduct and Responsibility" reads:

"It is the responsibility of all wrestlers to conduct themselves in such a way as to reflect credit upon their institutions, the sport and themselves. Further, all wrestlers should realize that their personal appearance, behavior and standards are related closely to the image of the sport as perceived by all segments of the public and wrestling communities. This applies to conduct as a competitor on the mat, while attending the event, while traveling to and from the event, while both on and off campus. Moral obligation and ethical conduct are part of winning and losing. Good sportsmanship, pride, honor, and personal behavior should be placed above all else. The rules have been established in the spirit of this statement."

As one would expect in a rule book, there are dozens of pages devoted to inappropriate or rule-breaking on-the-mat behavior -- everything from what constitutes stalling to dangerous, illegal holds, as well as acts which are considered unsportsmanlike, such as taunting, or a wrestler pulling down the straps of his singlet after a match but while still on the mat. However, I was unable to find any material regarding inappropriate off-the-mat behavior within this 140-page book ... a fact confirmed by Ron Beaschler, Secretary of the NCAA Rules Committee responsible for producing the rulebook, who said, "I only work with the playing rules for wrestling."

Beaschler was kind enough to forward my query to Chris Radford, Associate Director of Public and Media Relations for the NCAA, who responded, "I'm not aware of any such communication from the national office. Generally speaking, it is the responsibility of each respective school to provide such guidance and education for their student-athletes."

Other factors governing athlete behavior

Beyond the NCAA wrestling rulebook, most colleges and universities have a Code of Conduct (or similarly-named document) which governs the behavior of all students at that institution; many also have a specific set of rules which apply to their student-athletes. In addition, schools usually have some sort of review board or other judicial body which hears cases of alleged rule-breaking and determines appropriate sanctions when warranted, including expulsion from school.

Nowadays, for on-campus matters, students -- even athletes who are nationally recognized -- are protected from potential public humiliation or embarrassment by a federal law known as FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits colleges and universities from releasing personally identifiable information derived from education records, including information regarding student disciplinary matters.

FERPA is the reason that wrestling fans -- and wrestling writers -- don't always know the reasons for the departure of a college wrestler, whether it's a temporary suspension, or a permanent parting of the ways. Especially in cases that involve an on-campus situation, whatever it may be -- a coach benching a wrestler for failing to show up for practice, or failing a class, for example. Sometimes the truth is revealed later -- a wrestler returns to the team without any advance notice, or suddenly shows up on another campus. Or the wrestler reveals the story himself on Twitter or Facebook. However, under FERPA, the school itself is not to disclose disciplinary action taken against a student-athlete. If the student-athlete chooses to reveal the reasons for his or her absence, that's not a violation of FERPA.

Of course, alleged crimes which take place off-campus -- on a public street, in a bar, or in an apartment or home within the community -- are no longer under school jurisdiction and FERPA rules, but are subject to handling by local law enforcement and possible prosecution within the criminal justice system. (Though the college may choose its own punishment for such students -- suspension or expulsion, for example -- above and beyond any fines, probation or jail time from local courts.) Arrests are part of the public record; in many college communities, arrest records are posted online at police websites and/or at the websites of local or college newspapers, for the entire wrestling world to discover.

Schools share their guidelines

InterMat reached out to sports information directors at a number of college wrestling programs competing at all levels -- from NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) to NCAA Division I -- to ask about what kind of rules and programs they have in place to guide wrestlers in their off-the-mat behavior, including use of social networks.

Chas Dorman, Associate Director of Athletic Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, is the media's point-of-contact for the Penn wrestling program. When asked about instruction in the use of social media on the part of Quaker wrestlers, Dorman said, "I handle this with the team. Each fall, I have about a half hour with the team which covers social media and general media processes. I cover how privacy works/doesn't work in social media, impart what being an Ivy League student-athlete means, and the higher standard our student-athletes are held to. I try to focus on how social media is the same as giving a quote in a media interview and how you should approach social media as if you are in your singlet/warm-ups and at a microphone. Last year with the other teams I work with, I started using a PowerPoint presentation which includes examples of inappropriate social media from across the country, inside the Ivy League and at Penn. This will be used with wrestling this year."

In terms of preparing wrestlers for media interviews, Dorman said, "I handle this in conjunction with the social media presentation. We explain what the media is all about, why they are covering us, and go over proper tactics for interviews. Once a year, our captains and head coaches across all sports meet with a group called The Speaking Specialists who are a widely-regarded media relations training firm."

Dorman also addressed on-campus behavior issues, such as attending classes, maintaining grades, and showing up for classes. "Our coaches run through a lot of this with the team, but representatives from our Academics and Compliance office also meet with the team at the beginning of each season to make sure all formal policies on those areas are covered," said Dorman. "Academics also runs workshops on selecting majors, internships, etc."

As for off-campus behavior -- and what might constitute illegal behavior vs. something that may be perceived as inappropriate but not necessarily illegal -- Dorman responded, "Our Academics group helps run these workshops with our public safety office. All incoming student-athletes have a meeting and then each team meets as well."

Steve Lomangino
Steve Lomangino, sports information director for wrestling and football at Lehigh University, said, "Instruction and information on use of social media and training for conducting interviews with members of the media are initiatives led by our sports information department. We try to meet with all of our teams during the preseason to go over our list of media relations topics (who covers us, TV/radio/internet coverage, tips for conducting interviews, social media education etc.) ... "I do, however, try to work with the guys during the season about conducting interviews and I do try to provide some level of social media education when we're on road trips during the season."

Lomangino provided some perspective regarding other sports he serves at Lehigh: "I do a 10-15 minute session with our football team in August during training camp. In addition to preseason team talks, my assistant does a 30-minute media-training session with our men's basketball and men's lacrosse teams in the preseason to prepare them for in-season interview requests."

"As for the on and off-campus behavior topics, I'm not as certain," Lomangino continued. "Our office does not advise student-athletes on those matters. Our coaching staff provides most of the education on proper on-campus behavior. I think the off-campus behavior is probably a combination of our coaching staff and our top department administrators, who go over a lot of the expected on/off-campus behaviors of ALL of our student-athletes at a student-athlete orientation meeting during the first week of classes in the fall."

Travis Chell, sports information director for the men's and women's wrestling programs at King University in Bristol, Tenn., has been in the position for only one year, so some of that school's initiatives in preparing its student-athletes for dealing with issues beyond the wrestling mat or playing surface. When asked about use of social media, Chell responded, "I'm trying to get someone on campus to talk about that. If that doesn't happen, I hope to give a short presentation to our student-athletes."

In terms of providing guidance regarding on-campus and off-campus behavior on the part of King athletes, Chell said that this is the responsibility of each team's coaches, and that each program has specific rules governing student-athlete behavior.

Wrestlers weigh in, too

In addition to reaching out to college sports information directors, InterMat sought the input of individuals who wrestled in college, whether it was recently, or some time ago, to see what kind of instruction they received in terms of off-the-mat behavior, if any.

Curran Jacobs
Curran Jacobs wrestled at Michigan State from 2008-2012, and now resides in the Los Angeles area, pursuing his acting career. He played the wrestling coach for the Luke Dunphy character in a February 2014 episode of the hit ABC-TV series "Modern Family," which was highlighted in a 2014 InterMat article.

The former Spartan wrestler said that they were not given specific instructions as to use of social media, or regarding interviews with the media, saying, "If the media wanted to speak with us, such as the 'State News' or the Big 10 Network, we were free to speak our minds about our training and our competition."

Jacobs went into greater detail about guidance in non-media behavior issues. Addressing the question concerning on-campus behavior, Jacobs -- who starred in MSU productions of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- said, "We were heavily encouraged by our coaches and the athletic program to attend classes and to be on our best behavior. If we didn't attend class, then we were punished by not being able to attend practice. If your grades were really bad and you rarely attended class, you were suspended and possibly kicked off the team. It just wasn't tolerated."

"The athletic program at MSU made it mandatory for all the athletes in every sport to attend a three-hour seminar at the beginning of the year where we had to sit and listen to men and women speak about the importance of being leaders," Jacobs continued. "We were told that we represented Michigan State University on and off the field. And our actions spoke not only for ourselves, but for our coaches, classmates and our University itself. We covered subjects like alcohol abuse, drug use, hazing, sexual assault, etc. And the penalty for misbehaving in a serious way regarding these subjects resulted in the athlete being stripped of their scholarship and kicked off the team."

Mike Fessler, author of the brand-new book "Faith and Wrestling", wrestled at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota -- one of the highest-ranked prep programs in the nation -- and at Cal State Bakersfield before earning a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Bethel University in St. Paul.

"Both in high school and in college I was provided instruction about interviews with the media, on-campus behavior and off-campus behavior," said Fessler. "However, all the instruction came from the coaching staff. Particularly in high school, I recall gathering a handful of times as a team, before practice, and receiving this sort of instruction. I wrestled for Apple Valley, and our coaches would continuously tell us, 'As an Apple Valley wrestler, you are in a fish bowl. Everybody is watching you, and that includes your behavior and communication in interviews as well as your behavior on and off the mat. Be on your best behavior. Be respectful of yourself and others.' They would then offer instruction about how to put this proper behavior into action."

"I was not provided such instruction, however, with regard to social media use," Fessler continued. "Primarily because social media had not yet made a large impact on society. I graduated from high school in 2004, and wrestled just a year in college. Facebook, Myspace, and other mainstay social media platforms were not implemented until 2005 or so."

Another former wrestler who had no instruction in social media but got sound guidance in how a college matman should behave was Jack Alkon. The just-retired dentist from Connecticut whose college mat career was in the late 1960s shared his experiences in a 2008 InterMat article about how developments in wrestling gear and mats have affected competitor strategy over the years.

"I wrestled at Tufts College from 1965 thru 1969," said Alkon. "Our program would now be classified as Division III, although those divisions didn't exist at the time."

"As I recall, we received no instruction or materials regarding communication with the media or behavioral guidelines, but pretty much the only medium interested in us was our school newspaper."

"Our coach did let us know in the course of coaching what was expected of us," Alkon continued. "Early in my college career, I was in a close match with a very good opponent. I was on top and he bridged back and pinned me while I was 'in control.' I came off the mat and said an expletive which could be heard by the fans. My coach came over to me and I expected him to console me on a tough loss, but instead he laid into me for not accepting my loss gracefully and reacting poorly. This was an important lesson that taught me that my actions and reactions affect others' perception of wrestlers and wrestling."

Alkon offered some timeless advice that seems appropriate for wrestlers of any era, at any type of school.

"In my opinion, wrestling -- and all amateur sport -- is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Striving to learn techniques, get in shape, and hopefully defeat opponents is the means by which athletes learn discipline, respect (for opponents, officials and self), work ethic, facing challenges, accepting victory and defeat gracefully, and so many more life lessons. If these lessons aren't learned, all the medals and trophies are meaningless."

Student-athlete social media use: One school's guidelines

Use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter may well be the final frontier in terms of student-athlete behavior. Most of these services are less than a decade old. While colleges, coaches and other authority figures try to set rules or guidelines on social media use, it's ultimately up to individual wrestlers and other student-athletes to discover the best ways to use these technology tools without injuring their own image and reputation -- and that of their school and wrestling program. (Think of it this way: back when all-time greats like Dan Hodge and Dan Gable ruled the college mats, they had to abide by various rules and codes of conduct during their college mat careers ... but never had to worry about possibly posting a message, photo or video online that others might find questionable or offensive.)

A website -- SocialMediaGovernance.com -- provides links to dozens of websites featuring rules (or at least some guidelines) on use of social media for employees of organizations ranging from city governments to major worldwide corporations. Only one is a college sports-related link: a two-page policy document from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Athletics, governing "social networking and media use."

The Tarheels document opens with this statement: "The UNC Department of Athletics recognizes and supports its student-athletes' rights to freedom of speech, expression, and association, including the use of online social networks. In this context, however, each student-athlete must remember that playing and competing for the University of North Carolina is a privilege, not a right. As a student-athlete, you represent the University and you are expected to portray yourself, your team, and your University in a positive manner at all times. Any online postings much therefore be consistent with federal and State laws, and team, Department, University, and NCAA rules, regulations and policies."

The UNC document goes on to provide guidelines for student-athlete use of social media, including:

  • "Everything you post is public information -- any text or photo placed online is completely out of your control the moment it is placed online -- even if you limit access to your site. Information (including pictures, videos, comments and posters) may be accessible even after you remove it." (In their social media guidelines, a number of corporate and institutional websites stress that online material is often instantly archived and retrievable long after a poster has taken it down, or the website has disappeared.)

  • "Use caution when adding someone or inviting someone to be a friend. Many individuals are looking to take advantage of student-athletes, to get close to student-athletes to give themselves a sense of membership, or to gain information about you, your teammates, or your team for the purposes of sports gambling or negative publicity." (Some "friends" may simply want to bask in a wrestler's reflected glory, or feel as if they are part of a college wrestling program. However, others may have criminal intent in mind.)

  • "Limit information about your whereabouts or plans to minimize the potential of being stalked, assaulted, or the victim of other criminal activity." (Some smartphone apps provide an athlete's social media followers with a "real-time roadmap" of his or her daily activities such as boarding a particular airline flight, checking into a specific hotel, or simply his/her location on a map.)

  • "What you post may affect your future. Many employers and graduate school admissions officers review social networking sites as part of their overall evaluation of an applicant. Carefully consider how you want people to perceive you before you give them a chance to misinterpret your information (including pictures, videos, comments, and posters.)."

    In addition, the UNC document to say that, "Similar to comments made in person, the Department of Athletics will not tolerate disrespectful comments and behavior online," listing examples such as "derogatory or defamatory language" ... comments that could be considered threatening, with the potential of causing physical or emotional injury to others ... and comments, photos or videos that describe or depict unlawful or prohibited conduct, including assault, abuse, hazing, harassment, or discrimination, along with selling, possessing or using controlled substances. (It can be as seemingly innocent as photos of a college wrestler hoisting a beer in a state where he would be underage for alcohol use. From this writer's observation, these types of photos, once a staple of a number of college wrestler Facebook and Twitter accounts especially during conference and NCAA championship events, have pretty much disappeared online as today's athletes seem to recognize the potential perils of posting these kinds of images.)

    According to its student-athlete policy on social media use, University of North Carolina states that each sports team "must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members' social networking sites and postings."

    Social media use: Learning from the corporate world

    Use of social media isn't an issue that only colleges and student-athletes are wrestling with; governments and corporations are also seeking rules that allow individual employees a measure of freedom of expression, while wanting to be protective of the organization's overall image.

    Forbes.com columnist Jeanne Meister has written about corporate use of social media. In a 2013 column, Meister wrote, "Companies like Unisys, Sprint and HP have caught on to this fact. They've created social media training programs that show employees how using social media can be a valuable business tool, and even can increase performance and productivity."

    Meister went on to list her "5 Rs of Social Media" that, while primarily geared to workers in large corporations, provide good guidance for any user of social media. I've modified some of her explanations to make them uniquely appropriate to student-athletes, including college wrestlers:

    1. Reason: "Use reasonable etiquette, the same as you would offline."

    2. Represent yourself: Don't pretend to be someone you're not ... and don't be anonymous, as, according to Meister, "anonymous profiles lend themselves to more negative content."

    3. Responsibility: What you post could be online forever (even if you post it, then quickly delete it). Don't post anything you wouldn't be willing to defend in person. Don't reveal any team secrets.

    4. Respect: Don't disrespect opponents, your teammates or your coaches.

    5. Restraint: "Before you hit that 'send' button, pause and reread. If you wouldn't want that particular thought [or photo or video] forever associated with your name, don't post it."

    InterMat contacted two business consultants with ties to amateur wrestling to get their dual perspective on use of social media among college wrestlers.

    Matt Krumrie, who has written for a number of wrestling publications and websites (including InterMat) and penned the book "The Ultimate Guide to Wrestling Camps", counsels business professionals on putting together resumes and other job-seeking strategies with his own consultancy as well as through columns for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the online news service Examiner.com.

    When asked about social media use on the part of college wrestlers, Krumrie responded, "Schools know it's a ticking time bomb because they can't control when a student-athlete gets on social media."

    "An athlete, like it or not, is under scrutiny."

    "Corporations have social media policies for employees -- don't tweet while at work, for example," Krumrie continued. "That being said, even they can't control others, so it can be a real mess."

    Mark Dollins, subject of a 2013 InterMat profile as a lifelong wrestler and fan who was one of two winners of "The Ultimate Dan Gable Experience" from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, had worked in corporate communications for major utilities and top consumer goods companies such as Quaker Oats and Pepsi during his professional career before launching his own consulting business in 2011.

    "I'm all for free speech and believe that's everybody's right. But I also believe people should be held accountable for their words and actions," said Dollins.

    "Wrestling -- or playing any college sport for any college team -- is a privilege," continued Dollins, who continues to wrestle in veteran events. "These athletes worked hard not only to earn the right to compete, but to represent the honor and dignity of their college or university. As such, they are accountable to the standards those institutions have in place."

    "Free speech is a right, but so, too, is the right of every American to judge the institution that sends any athlete out to compete under its name," Dollins added. "(A school) is a brand, and every brand has the right to defend itself with disciplinary actions against people (students on university sponsored teams included) who misrepresent it."
  • Comments

    Login or Register to post a comment

    JMHWSM (1) about a month ago
    This is what separates InterMat from the rest.
    Mount Carmel (1) about a month ago
    Excellent job!!!