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The number of professional athletes who face big consequences for posting personal opinions on social-media is becoming an increasing problem. In recent years, a number of programs have banned their players from the wrong usage of social media. Solving the issue of athlete’s posting something that is offensive to part of the public has no one answer or guideline, but this action does carry on consequences, which causes a huge fault with athletes and their careers. The end result to this unsolved issue is that athlete’s negative posts on their social media accounts should consequently affect their professional lives in a negative way.
Freedom of speech is one of our main rights in the United States, and the First Amendment guarantees it to all citizens without any exception. This is what separates the United States from the rest of the world; so it is hard to believe that something like social media, highly used by a majority of us every day and an ultimate display of freedom of expression, could be the exception to the rule.
To athletes for example, who get backlashed for posting something that some fans may deem as offensive and disturbing, or may incite different emotions in other people. Most of America’s depreciation for the First Amendment has caused people to carelessly go out of hand with what they say on social media. Different consequences have been a result of these insensitive posts that have no backing to them. So who is the ultimate judge to decide what happens and what can be openly said?
Sport celebrities are often used as role models for various names brand products, as well as representatives of their country locally and worldwide.
By signing a contract, these athletes bare a bigger responsibility to represent themselves in the most professional way to the public. Athletes commonly use sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect to their fans and create a platform for them and throughout the world. These ‘authentic interactions’ directly with fans have an ‘accumulated influence’ effects causing a larger than life profile, which will guarantee to publicize the player and the products they represent. This method of communication has had a beneficial and a detrimental impact on the careers of players and their sponsors. Although these players are perfectly allowed to voice their own opinions and to carry on their life as they wish, unfortunately all it takes is one wrong post to destroy a player’s career, team, and a sponsor’s image. For example, Pittsburgh Steelers American football running back, Rashard Mendenhall, had expressed his position on the death of Osama Bin Laden who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Mendenhall wrote “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…” The empathetic attitude towards Osama Bin Laden led to Rashard Mendenhall losing his endorsement deal with Champion athletic brand due to the fact that the company strongly disagreed with his tweet. Mendenhall later clarified on what he meant and called his message “misconstrued”. Mendenhall stated that he was trying to truthfully represent himself and stand for what he personally believes (The Associated).
The repercussions of open unedited comments by sportsmen display the need for restrictions on social media. Few colleges have already taken action on their player’s freedom to use social media since many are seen as role models. For example: Boise State coach banned players from using any social media during the season (Boise). More recently, the University of Miami, UNC, and Texas Tech all required football players to cancel their Twitter accounts entirely. Indiana University indefinitely suspended a player from a football team after he sent tweets criticizing the school’s coaching staff. The men’s basketball teams at Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa and Louisville all restricted their players from tweeting last season (Kimes). Some of these restrictions may seem harsh and unnecessary, but in reality it could help save a player’s image. Social media is just a distraction especially during the on season for an athlete. Social media can also bring alive the meanness inside of an individual possibly causing them to leave a hasty comment for a player, which can create a major problem for the player.
On the contradictory side, it is difficult to choose which pieces of speech are worthy of protection from action and which can be used against someone in legal proceedings. Not everything said on social media can be taken at face value, especially with athletes, because in the end we are all humans and we all have the same right so they should be able to express their ideas like everyone else. Striking a balance between unfiltered free speech, political correctness, and censorship is difficult. If even a fair amount of regulations come about for what we can or cannot post, our freedom will soon be terminated, because freedom is the right to speak or think as one wants without being restrained. Censoring what is allowed (or not allowed) on social media may seem like it goes against our Constitutional Rights. Therefore, there will be constant debates on what is freedom of speech due to different interpretations.
There are many laws that support the freedom of speech; censoring comments on social media platforms is a potential violation of these rights. Legal restrictions would be difficult to endorse on social media, but parameters are needed to monitor what is said online to avoid bullying and potential unnecessary cyber arguments. They will probably argue that student-athletes are different from their peers. Players already submit to extra oversight, like curfews and practice schedules. But unlike social media bans, those rules don’t invalidate their constitutional rights. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it maintains that “Everyone has the right to freedom to hold opinions and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” Due to this barrier it would be legally impossible for any democratic government to restrict open forums on social media platforms. “The future of free speech will not be determined by a Supreme Court justice interpreting the first amendment, because the first amendment only binds government… It does not bind Google, Comcast and Facebook.” Therefore governments may not be able to control what appears online under the laws pertaining to freedom of speech; however social media organizations have the right to censorship their websites. The government has the ability to control companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube if comments by users have violated human rights; but they cannot prohibit freedom of expression themselves.
In general, there are exceptions that prevent hate speech, defamation, and threats. Some of these are not legal, just frowned upon by the society at large, while others can get someone in trouble. Social media sites allow for the spread of all types of speech, from spoken word pieces on sites like YouTube, to shorter phrases said in 140 characters on Twitter. The publication of negative speech has some positive and negative consequences. But can be solved if our nation puts enough effort into making a difference. The sport industry has demonstrated how social media can be optimized and controlled. As social media expands it is inevitable that debate of free speech versus damaging statements is going to become more prevalent.
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