JIM PETERS: Twitter's fun, but athletes need to type carefully

2013-09-05T17:00:00Z 2013-09-06T02:15:06Z JIM PETERS: Twitter's fun, but athletes need to type carefullyJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
September 05, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Be humble.

Emphasize the team.

Don't say anything that's going to end up on somebody's bulletin board.

As I stand waiting to talk to an athlete after an event, the scenario is often the same. While I'm readying my pen and notepad, the coach is whispering advice on the dos and don'ts of interviewing into the ear of their player. It's most common in the case of newbies who have never answered questions for publication before.

It can be trying. I understand how intimidating I can be. (Insert wink). Some kids are absolute naturals, with personality shining through. Others are intellectual and communication comes easily. Then there are those who simply struggle in the setting, for whatever reason. Most of it falls in the mainstream.

No matter the athlete's interviewing proficiency, all coaches fear the same thing, that the kid is going to say something stupid and inflammatory. It's not my job to be the quote police. It's my job to write the best article I can and if a provocative comment is going to advance my story line, there's a good chance I'm going to use it.

That said, these are high school kids, not adults who are being paid to play. I'm not trying to hang anybody out to dry with a verbal misstep. When I hear something that makes me raise my eyebrows, I'll usually rephrase the inquiry to be sure they knew what they were saying, often just minutes after the heat of the battle has concluded. Call it a professional courtesy.

Social media is a different animal. There is no filter, no chance at a do-over. When a kid tweets on Twitter or posts on Facebook, it's out there, getting re-tweeted and favorited faster than they can it the delete button. It's a potential field of land mines to navigate for coaches. You're not sure where it's safe to step, even if there's a 140-character cap.

How to handle it? Shutting down accounts in season is an option, but that's not teaching students anything. Again, they're not getting a scholarship or a salary to play, so a social media embargo isn't the way to go. 

It's all about education. Kids have to learn by experience -- not by having a coach on their shoulder during interviews -- and with a little guidance, they don't have to learn the hard way. Paul Oren, a Valparaiso University professor of communications and a Times correspondent, has conducted sessions on social media with the Valpo High School football team the last two years. Kudos to Heidi Bernardi and Dave Coyle for being proactive. Likewise to anybody else who's done the same.

Honestly, it's not rocket science, just common sense. Think before you type. If you have doubts, there's probably a reason. Consider the consequences of your remark, not just for yourself but your team.

Some coaches have taken to getting their own accounts as a way of overseeing the landscape or simply meeting kids on their level. It's not for everybody, but that works, too.

I don't do Facebook, but I love Twitter. I interact with athletes who are so inclined, like @JZSportsFreak and @BigNickBokun, and I enjoy the conversations. I'm glad to say I haven't seen many verbal fires ignited by high schoolers in my Twittersphere travels. Good for them.

It's supposed to be fun. Let's keep it that way.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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