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Scary effects of social media

Wiggins
May. 15, 2013 @ 11:48 PM

Just 15 minutes after Andrew Wiggins completed his Tuesday ceremony and interviews following his announcement that he would attend the University of Kansas, he sat and stared at his phone in the office of Huntington Prep basketball head coach Rob Fulford.

He was silent at first with his eyes glued to the screen. Then, as he scrolled some more he kept reading and even muttered some things aloud.

"Wow, this is bad," Wiggins said while still scrolling through his phone.

These weren't congratulatory texts he was receiving.

They were Tweets -- or messages sent through the social media site Twitter, for those who aren't aware of the latest craze in interactivity.

And, these messages directly attacked Wiggins, wished him personal harm including death and also called him a plethora of racial and socially unacceptable terms.

Unfortunately, it is a growing trend in recent months and years involving athletes.

The social media craze has taken over the world and brought those with celebrity status, including athletes, onto the same medium as everyone in society, including fans.

Especially popular in sports, fans can Tweet at their favorite athletes in hopes of getting a reply or Retweet and the feeling of having a conversation with a superstar.

Professional athletes were the first to be bombarded by the new phenomenon, but it quickly filtered down to the college ranks where fan bases created groups or lists to join in and follow their favorite teams.

Now, with high school athletes getting exposure through AAU circuits and showcases at younger-than-ever ages, the social media bug has filtered down to people who aren't even old enough to drive or serve their country.

Need proof?

As of Wednesday evening, Wiggins had 86,575 (and growing) followers on Twitter.

The point is not that interactivity is a bad thing. It can be a very good thing when used properly.

The question becomes 'How close is too close?' when speaking of interactivity with athletes -- especially those who are still minors.

Wiggins tried to laugh off the criticisms while sitting in Fulford's office, but he sat there and scrolled through as supposed fans took shot after shot at him.

Also, there was more than one occasion during the course of the recruiting process when he was heard discussing the four schools he considered and how he would get bashed on Twitter by fans of the three he didn't choose.

High school athletes who are heavily recruited in a sport have plenty of things to contemplate when choosing a school.

It's a difficult process that requires time and thought, but should also be a happy time for the athlete as they celebrate their achievements.

These athletes should be thinking about academics at a school or coaching and playing styles as a reason to choose a college.

Verbal bashing and disparaging remarks should never enter into the equation.

Fulford said he thinks it is getting to the point that social media and the negative comments of fans are starting to play too much of a role in the thought process of athletes.

He pointed out that these are kids who are still exactly that -- kids. They are 16- to 18-year-olds who are impressionable by the things that others say.

"Social media has made recruiting kind of a disaster, honestly," Fulford said. "There are so many people who have access to those that they normally wouldn't. It's really dangerous."

Several college coaches have resorted to banning their athletes from social media sites during the season, but how do you enforce something that is voluntary.

It's not like anyone forces athletes to join the social media ranks.

Sadly, it's one of many challenges and issues facing sports today.

Should there be a movement to consider Tweets and Facebook posts in the same context as verbal abuse which would make it punishable by law?

Perhaps.

Regardless, something needs to be done about the constant berating of innocent athletes -- especially those in the high school and college ranks who are not paid, unlike professionals who are compensated in a fashion because scrutiny is part of the job.

Until the day when there is change in regard to how social media is governed, the verbal beat will unfortunately go on.

Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter (@Grant Traylor).

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