Kent State University athletic department has joined Loyola University Chicago in banning its student-athletes from using the website Facebook. Kent State athletic director Laing Kennedy claimed that the move was purely intended to keep students safe from "weirdoes".
"In this day and age, there's enough weirdoes out there that we thought we should take a good hard look at it," Kennedy told WKYC.
Kennedy told the Daily Kent Stater that the athletic department's "interest is to protect our students".
"What really got our attention was that we had one student athlete that was contacted inappropriately," Kennedy told the university newspaper. "In checking that out, we discovered that there was personal information by a number of our student athletes on Facebook."
However, anyone accessing the university website can bring up the same information on students, including their home address and permanent phone number. While this information can be removed should a student wish, many probably remain unaware of just how much personal information is available at www.kent.edu. In contrast any information on Facebook is placed there by the user themselves and can be quickly removed. Additionally, unlike the university site, which is open to literally anyone with internet access, Facebook users must log in and can only view details of those who attend the same university or who are their 'friends'. Should we therefore presume that the university is only interested in the welfare of student-athletes?
If this was merely an issue of protecting the interests of the student-athletes the university would be better off educating them about potential dangers, which is exactly what the University of Colorado decided to do (even in light of offensive tackler Clint O'Neal and his girlfriend, cross country runner Jackie Zeigle, being accused of sending a racially threatening Facebook message to Hispanic cross country runner Greg Castro in December 2005).
"We're not going to get into the censorship business," sports information director David Plati told the USA Today in response to the potentially damaging situation. "We're just giving them smart advice."
Kennedy would be better advised to be honest and admit he is protecting his, and his department's, own interests. This is a case of an athletic department censoring its students and removing their First Amendment rights to prevent any potentially bad publicity that may be generated through Facebook. Instead they may just find that future athletes think twice before electing to compete at a school with such seemingly totalitarian policies.
Although in no way comparable, it seems rather ironical that this has taken place at a university which has a history of impinging on the rights of its students.
Daily Kent Stater article
USA Today article