MLB controversies teach WPIAL players to exercise caution on social media

August 12, 2018

Shady Side Academy’s Skyy Moore tries to leap over Valley’s Evan Anderson Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, at Shady Side Academy.

Skyy Moore lives by a pretty simple social media philosophy.

“I try to not put anything on that I wouldn’t share to my grandma,” Moore said.

To this point, that method is treating Moore well. The Shady Side Academy senior religiously tweets out his football scholarship offers -- he has more than a dozen -- but more frequently retweets fellow WPIAL stars’ accounts, mostly benign content.

“Most of the time, I feel like everyone takes that same amount of caution to the situation,” he said. “But sometimes, I see a little bit -- nothing too heavy, but a little bit of language that I could see coaches not being OK with.”

With social media a crucial part of athletes’ recruitment -- players send out videos, contact coaches and post about scholarship offers through their various accounts -- they know outsiders are watching their activity, and nothing can truly be hidden.

A handful of years-old deleted tweets with racially charged language from Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen’s account surfaced the night before the NFL Draft in April, when the Buffalo Bills made Allen their first-round draft pick.

Controversy emerged recently with a handful of Major League Baseball players -- the Milwaukee Brewers’ Josh Hader, the Atlanta Braves’ Sean Newcomb, the Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner and the New York Yankees’ Sonny Gray -- when long-ago tweets with various racial, homophobic and other negativity were unearthed. James Gunn, the director of the first two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, was removed from the third after the reveal of his own past posts, which included jokes on subjects like pedophilia and rape.

Some of those posts had been deleted before they were uncovered, but in an era with screenshots and other ways of preserving digital content, they didn’t disappear.

The WPIAL’s top athletes and their coaches take care to embrace the positive aspects of social media while avoiding the bad.

“Our coach always says make the smart decisions before you push tweet and think about what could happen if you do something stupid,” said Latrobe lineman Trent Holler, who has 17 scholarship offers and is a frequent tweeter and re-tweeter under his screen name @bigsnack24.

One of Holler’s tweets this summer showed a video of him running a pass route and beating the defensive back in coverage with a juke, with the text “Lineman can shake off corners too..”

“I only tweet/retweet stuff that shows who I am and stuff to not get me in trouble with anyone,” Holler said.

Gateway football coach Don Holl has kept a team policy manual covering a variety of topics, from discipline to nutrition, going back to the early 2000s. About three years ago he added social media to the manual, incorporating aspects of various employer policies he found online.

“The short version was things like once it’s out there, it’s out there,” Holl said. “If anybody has it and you deleted it, it’s still alive. Ultimately, we talk about those things and say you’re representing yourself and your program and your school. Anything you say that could be construed as bullying or could be construed as harassment or could be construed as inappropriate could be subject to school discipline, so we try to pre-emptively keep some of those things off of social media.”

Clairton coach Wayne Wade said the Bears developed something of an “unwritten rule” of staying away from negativity as they were in the midst of a 66-game winning streak that lasted from 2009-13.

“They shouldn’t be on there with certain things,” he said. “They need to keep their social media clean because it’s accessible to anybody; anybody and everybody can take a look at it. What we say is it kind of shows your character.”

Holl and Wade maintain their own Twitter accounts, which allows them to monitor their players. Holl requires his players follow him so they can get information, and he follows them back.

“At the end of the day, we’re still in such a difficult zone because you really have lots of time where they’re away from school and away from you, and certainly it’s like they’re conversations nowadays,” Holl said. “I don’t know how many conversations everyone’s had that they’d like to take back, but conversations are gone in a blink of an eye other than in the memory of the people who are involved. Whereas once it’s in social media, it’s permanent.”

Still, Holl said it’s easier to monitor activity than he originally thought. He said he talked with one past player about posts that complained about coaches.

Wade also monitors his players’ posts, but he said he doesn’t check them religiously, trusting they know the team guidelines.

Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo does not monitor social media -- “wouldn’t know how to get there,” he said -- but he discusses the topic with his players and warns them not to engage in trash talk or other negativity online.

“It’s the craziest thing to do to put stuff on there that you don’t know if it’s going to offend somebody or not,” he said.

Colosimo said he also isn’t “the biggest fan” of the way colleges seem to recruit through social media. He believes too much attention is paid to highlight videos and not enough to conversations with coaches and other more traditional methods.

Certainly social media plays a huge role in recruiting. Moore said he attended the Duke football camp this summer, where coaches warned the attendees about what they posted on social media.

“It just makes me be that much more careful,” he said.

Likewise, Norwin’s Jayvon Thrift says he knows his recruiters are watching.

“I feel like they look at our social media to see what type of person you are,” said Thrift, who has 12 Division I offers. “Also to see what we do when we think no one is watching to see what type of behavior we would have at that school.”

Moore’s grandmother doesn’t actually look at social media, but he believes she’d be OK with what he has on there.

″(It’s) nothing my grandma wouldn’t be proud of,” he said.

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