On National Signing Day, Let’s Sack the Social Media Stalkers

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Happy National Signing Day.

No matter how your favorite college football team finished in 2010, today is heralded as a day of hope and excitement for fans across the country.  

Sports networks, websites and a gaggle of reporters spent hours and hours today analyzing the high school athletes who’ve inked their names to  national letters of intent (LOIs). Fax machines actually got used today.

College football fans participate, too. They’re hitting fan forums, Twitter and Facebook to talk up their school’s 2011 recruiting class. For some fans, it’s a process that begins months – even years – earlier, when talk of a recruit’s interest sparks discussion on those social channels.

The signing process is another opportunity for fans to interact – sometimes too closely – with these stars of tomorrow. Many athletes invite anyone to “become a friend” on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Good idea or bad, college football fans benefit from the all-access pass that can come with social media. The athletes benefit (I guess) by getting a pulse of their school’s fan base, and from the potential praise and attention heaped upon them.

Sounds harmless, right?

Not if you’re Philadelphia (Miss.) High LB C.J. Johnson. His recruitment process – one that pitted Mississippi State against Ole Miss – was ugly. Social media didn’t help. In fact it was so bad, Johnson pulled the plug on his Facebook page, telling his fans:

“This is my last Facebook post and I’m gonna leave facebook with this. Linda Johnson has never worked a s a house worker making 100,000 dollars a year and I will not be a Mississippi state bulldog and I’m not considering Mississippi state anymore bc you have constantly comment on my page send me crazy inboxes and has made my recruiting experience a living nightmare. Goodbye facebook.” 

This kind of “fan” behavior is becoming more common, and it’s unfortunate. I expect (OK, hope) to see some guidelines surface soon for high school athletes to incorporate into their social media usage.

The problem is, colleges have no control over potential recruits. Zero. And high school administrators have almost less influence. It will likely need to come from individual coaches in the form of team rules or guideliness. The NFL already imposes restrictions on social media, so there is some precedent.

For fans, there’s no excuse. If you’re going to follow or “friend” a high school athlete, do so at arm’s length and with a positive attitude. If he or she doesn’t ink an LOI with your school, so be it. Just because they accepted your “friend” request or you follow them on Twitter does not permit you to hound, ridicule or berate high school athletes publicly. And yes, Twitter and Facebook are VERY public places now.  

Being a fan has its priviledges. But the nonsense C.J. Johnson and other athletes have had to endure is not one of them.

Thanks for being a fan.

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