The unfortunate case of football recruit Yuri Wright, who was expelled from Don Bosco Prep for racially and sexually insensitive tweets, may be an extreme example of the misuse of social media, but it should serve as a reminder to all of us to take caution with what we write.
Wright, who lost the interest of the University of Michigan following his tweets but has since committed to the University of Colorado, is hardly the first athlete to get in trouble through Twitter, and it’s not surprising that his choice of words had consequences.
But many athletes have landed themselves in trouble for far less obviously offensive comments. During the NFL lockout, for example, Reggie Bush tweeted "I’m making the most of [the lockout]! Vacation, rest, relaxing, appearances here and there! I’m good! Right about now we would be slaving in 100 degree heat, practicing twice a day, while putting our bodies at risk for nothing." Bush meant it as a tease, responding to subsequent criticism by saying, "[The] tweet was a joke!" He might have even thought he was showing a positive attitude by highlighting what he saw as the "bright side" of an unfortunate situation. But many fans were disappointed by what they saw as a sense of entitlement.
Athletes have long been making ill-advised comments to the media, but in earlier days, they seemed to be the victims. It was the reporters who clawed for sound bites; athletes were simply foolish enough to respond. One could even cry foul by claiming one’s words were taken out of context. These are still issues, of course, but social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, give athletes the opportunity to take a much more active role in hurting their reputation. And while athletes, such as Wright, can seek to defend themselves by saying that their feeds were protected, ultimately it was their unprovoked decision to post what they did on the web.
That is not to say that all athletes use Twitter irresponsibly. Some use it quite well as a way to communicate with their fans.
Here at Harvard, we would all do well to remember the consequences other athletes have faced. Although most of us may not have athletic careers as decorated as Bush’s, attaching the Harvard name to our accomplishments makes us very visible. And just like professional football players, Harvard students are considered to be extremely privileged.
It is easy to see how seemingly innocuous Facebook statuses or Twitter posts on the struggles of problem sets and papers could rub some the wrong way, much in the same way that Bush’s tweet did. While students could admit that they do appreciate the gifts of a Harvard education and that they simply vented in a moment of frustration, the fact again remains that they made a choice to release to the public something that was unprovoked by reporters.
While I don’t have a Twitter, I often find myself nervous about how something I write might reflect upon my team. Most of the Crimson’s staff writers are not athletes, but there are a group of us, perhaps unsurprisingly concentrated in the sports board, that balance working for an independent newspaper with the responsibilities of representing our teams well.
While I don’t think that most people reading my articles know that I am a rower, I am always worried about how my work will reflect not only on myself but also on my team.
When Bush and Wright voiced thoughts best kept to themselves, they hurt themselves more than they hurt either of their teams. The same goes for Harvard students—athletes or otherwise—who choose to say stupid things in public whether vocally or online. It’s happened many times, and the University has always survived.
As pseudo-public personas, we must take care to acknowledge that our actions and words can have repercussions beyond our control.
No one’s perfect. From time to time, we all say things we wish we could retract. But there’s no reason why those words need to be read by others. As someone once said, a slip of the pen is much harder to defend than a slip of the tongue.
—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.