College Stars run from Fans, Cameras

Every member of a coaching staff, no matter the sport,  will tell you one of the most unsettling feelings is being presented with the Monday morning Facebook photos.  Student-athletes are becoming more and more savvy, they “lock” their photo’s so we (coaches) can’t get to them.  That doesn’t mean that no one can get to them.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed the behavior just made obtaining the photos more difficult.  We all have to work harder to instill the trust and values to improve the decision making of the student-athlete first and  help keep our student-athletes safer.

Let’s realize this… college kids to to parties.  All of them.  Athletes are no different.  Even the most dedicated of athletes still go.  It’s fun, it’s social, it’s their friends, classmates and peers.  Drinking or no drinking, your student-athletes are going to be at parties and potentially in the wrong place at the wrong time at some point during their collegiate career.   Athletes at parties is nothing new.  What is new is the technology.  Technology has put every intoxicated or high athlete on the front page of newspapers and all over the internet.  We all saw Michael Phelps.

As coaches, we are going to need to be prepared to help our student-athletes through this.  Helping them through it is the key, especially with female athletes.  It can not simply be about discipline.  Though discipline, responsibility and accountability are necessary, discipline is after the fact.  Discipline is a reaction.  We need to be proactive, help educate before they are in these situations.  Empower our student-athletes to make better decisions.  Hopefully, avoid as many situations as possible.

One of the best ways to do that is through establishing an acceptable “Standards of Behavior.”  “Rules” are made to be broken.  “Standards” are developed to be attained, much like goals.  Athletes are goal oriented.  With standards you tie the group together.  The strength in decision making is in numbers.  When a team has an agreed upon standards of behavior, they support and police each other.  It is a powerful tool to enabling student-athletes to make the right choice.

The catch… even when student-athletes make the right choice, it may look wrong.

Although the news headlines and photo snaps will touch Men’s Basketball and Football more than any other sport, don’t think it doesn’t happen in women’s athletics as well.  Without details, we all KNOW it does.

While shopping recently at RadioShack, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was approached by a woman with a seemingly innocuous request to take a picture with him. But an instant before her mother snapped the photo with a cellphone camera, the woman tried to take off her shirt.

“It’s happened four or five times,” Tebow said with a sigh. “Most of the time I just dive out of the picture. Some people can just be crazy.”

Tebow is all too familiar with the omnipresent spotlight.

“It really hinders you from going places,” he said. “People will do a lot of things to get you to try and look like you’re not doing something right.”

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In the era of Twitter, Facebook, badjocks.com and Deadspin.com, being the big star on campus no longer means only being the life of the party. For all the images of marching bands, cheerleaders and raucous student fans associated with college football and other sports, the romantic notion of a quaint campus life for star quarterbacks like Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy has all but disappeared, killed off by a combination of cloying fans and new technology.

We monitored social networking Web sites all the time.  We collected cellphones on the road.  We have heard that it is common for cellphones to be collected at the door of college parties to try to keep embarrassing or illegal moments off the Internet.

“The latest stuff with the cellphones and digital devices has erased the boundaries between public and private,” Michael Oriard, an Oregon State professor who has written three books about the culture of college football, said in a telephone interview with CBSSports.com. “It’s an enormous jump, as it’s not just ESPN or Fox cameras, but it’s everyone with a cellphone.”

Oriard, a former Notre Dame football captain, said that college athletes, who are unpaid, experience the problems of celebrities like Tom Brady and Paris Hilton without the monetary payoff. “It’s the downside of celebrity without the upside of it,” he said.

Bradford, McCoy and Tebow, the leading vote-getters for the Heisman Trophy last season, are among the most recognizable people in their states, and they receive intense scrutiny.

McCoy said he called the police when a man was screaming outside his apartment in the middle of the night. Tebow said that he could not go on a date because pictures would be on the Internet in 10 minutes. Bradford, who has been sidelined recently with a shoulder sprain, has had contentious encounters with professional autograph seekers. Each of the players passed up a potential multimillion-dollar N.F.L. contract to return to college. While hanging out with their friends and competing for a national title, there are awkward moments.

At a restaurant recently, McCoy said, a woman in an adjacent booth appeared to be talking on her cellphone but was actually using it to record video of him. He said that he was frequently filmed while walking to class and that he was cautious when people asked to have their photographs taken with him.

As Kent Bradford, Sam’s father, said, “You don’t know if you’re actually having that picture made with a known gambler or a known prostitute or a known drug dealer.”

The three quarterbacks, who are on full scholarship and enjoy the adulation they receive, do not bemoan their fate or complain vigorously. But under NCAA rules, they are not allowed to accept any gifts or receive preferential treatment. All the while, they feel the loss of privacy and crave a little space when in public.

Oriard said technology and social networking had caused another great shift in the way athletes are viewed, following ESPN and 24-hour cable news, which transformed them into celebrities.

“You definitely have to have your guard on everywhere you go,” McCoy said.

Compromising photos and videos of athletes often turn up on the Web. The typical path is from a cellphone to a Facebook page to a message board. Then the mainstream news media pick it up.

Perhaps the most popular distributor of athletes’ pictures is Deadspin.com, known for its snide commentary on modern sports. Deadspin’s editor, A. J. Daulerio, said the site feeds the age-old fascination with athletes’ lives off the field.

“Social networking has put a lot of this out there,” he said. “I think people are still under the impression that those sites are like the diary under the bed. They’re not.”

Our student-athletes need to know and understand this.  The party photo’s on Facebook that provide a ton of laughs in 2009 will turn up in a potential employers office during the summer of 2010, 2011, 2012….. Good-Bye internship.

Autograph seekers create another incessant intrusion; eBay has turned them into entrepreneurs. Kent Bradford said he often finds footballs and 8×10 photographs of his son on the doorstep of his Oklahoma City home.

While in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony last December, Bradford was continually pestered by a professional autograph collector seeking his signature on a photograph, said Kenny Mossman, the senior associate athletic director for communications at Oklahoma. After Bradford declined to sign several times, the collector ripped the photograph and threw the pieces in his face.

“Sometimes it does get frustrating,” Bradford said.

Some autograph requests can also be bizarre: McCoy has signed a young fan’s forehead and babies’ diapers. When a woman asks him to sign the chest of her shirt, he opts for her shoulder.

“It’s just crazy that you run into people like that,” McCoy said.

But even staying at home cannot always protect college athletes from unwanted attention. Last season a man showed up at McCoy’s apartment at 3 a.m. and woke him by beating on the door and screaming.

“He was calling me by my first name,” McCoy said. “He was yelling at me and telling me to come outside and meet him out there in the yard.”

The police were called and they took the man away, McCoy said. Shortly thereafter, McCoy and his roommates moved to a place where his pickup truck would be less visible.

McCoy said the man had been following him home after practices. Since the incident, he said, he has been more cautious about coming and going at the same time every day.

“It was really scary at the time,” McCoy said. “I really had no idea what to do, how to handle it. I was pretty kind of rattled there for a couple of weeks.”

For those that coach female student-athletes; caution, education and communication are vital to protecting their safety.

Excerpt from By PETE THAMEL and THAYER EVANS, New York Times and CBSSports.com

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