When University of Washington guard Isaiah Thomas arrived in Pullman earlier this year, it wasn’t his words that caught the attention of students at Washington State University.
It was his postings on Twitter.
“Guess What?” wrote Thomas, who has more than 13,000 Twitter followers. “It’s freaking snowing in this GHOST town man… Damn!”
It was a harmless comment, but by game time on Jan. 30, students at Washington State University had read the tweet, and were ready to heckle the Husky point guard throughout the game. After the Cougars’ 87-80 win, several logged onto Twitter and sent messages back to Thomas.
While colleges have long monitored their athletes’ comments, the rise of social media – and Twitter and Facebook in particular – have raised new concerns for major college sports programs. Several universities have hired a private company to monitor the social media websites of their athletes.
“We protect them from potentially harmful statements they make that could affect them for life after college,” said Kevin Long, CEO of UDiligence, which has worked with Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Louisville, among others.
The Pac-10 Conference does not have a policy for social media, but it allows individual universities to enact their own policies. At Washington, head coaches set their own policies for social media, according to a UW source.
“The athletic department does not have a policy regarding student athletes using Twitter and Facebook,” WSU media relations director Bill Stevens said.
On its website, UDiligence has posted several examples of questionable postings by athletes, including sexually suggestive images, sexist comments, and pictures of a Pac-10 basketball player holding what appears to be an assault rifle.
“It is impossible to tell these kids not to use Facebook or Twitter these days when all their friends are on it and using it,” Long said. “But at the same time, not monitoring what they are saying isn’t right either.”
UDiligence monitors student-athletes’ posts and Tweets and notifies the university as well as the athlete when it finds objectionable content.
“We have athletes install an app on their Twitter accounts and Facebook page and when something harmful is said the system automatically notifies the athlete and either a head coach or media director,” Long said.
Before the Jan. 30 UW-WSU game, Thomas and WSU guard Reggie Moore, who has posted more than 8,000 comments on Twitter, started a playful conversation on Twitter.
Thomas tweeted Moore, saying they should “start some beef on twitter LOL… so they can think we hate each other! Hahahaha.”
On Feb. 6, Thomas sent a tweet, apparently signing off for the next several days. The Huskies face the Cougars today in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, whose championship game will be held on March 12.
“im off Twitter till Mar 12,” Thomas wrote, “bcuz WE WILL be playing that day!”