Social media has become a widely used tool to communicate information from one source to another. Social media technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook are common avenues for sport fans to connect with their favorite athletes. Student-athletes in college and in high school are often targeted by sport fans in a negative manner. This especially holds true for well-known athletes who compete at the highest level and in the biggest competitions. An interesting research study by Blair Browning and Jimmy Sanderson investigates the use of Twitter by student-athletes and explores how it can positively or negatively affect a student-athlete. This study examined the intricacies of social media and how student-athletes respond to negative comments by sport fans.
Four research questions guided the study:
1. What motivations do student-athletes report for using Twitter?
2. How do student-athletes perceive critical tweets?
3. How do critical tweets affect student-athletes?
4. How do student-athletes respond to critical tweets?
These questions were designed to elicit the thoughts and feelings of student-athletes who used Twitter. A total of 20 student-athletes participated in the study. The majority of participants were football players (10), while five men’s basketball players, two baseball players, and three women’s basketball players participated in the study. All participants stated they had a Twitter account and accessed it using a cellular phone rather than a computer.
Results indicated that student-athletes were motivated to use Twitter for the following reasons:
1. Keeping in Contact
2. Communicating with Followers
3. Accessing Information
All of these reasons are normal for utilizing social media outlets. Participants responded differently when faced with situations in which sport fans criticized or evaluated their performances in competition. It can be assumed that most sport fans who are Twitter users forget that student-athletes are teenagers and young adults; therefore it is not unusual for student-athletes to be verbally abused via Twitter. The study found that student-athletes respond to critical tweets in a variety of ways. Some athletes simply ignore the tweets and do not respond, while others may inappropriately respond to fans. The latter response usually perpetuates the problem and sometimes initiates additional problems with corresponding institutions and athletic departments. Many athletic programs monitor or forbid their student-athletes using Twitter throughout the season. Should this be the approach for all institutions and athletic departments with high profile athletes?
Dr. Brandon Spradley is the Acting Director of Continuing Education at the United States Sports Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.