Just two weeks before National Letter of Intent Day in 2012, an elite high school football recruit from a national powerhouse was expelled from school and saw nearly all of his college scholarships get pulled off the table.
Yuri Wright, a 6-foot-2 cornerback from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, was set to choose between schools like Michigan and Notre Dame. But a series of racially and sexually graphic posts made from his Twitter account caused the standout to be both booted from his school and lose a chance to play major college football close to home.
Wright eventually landed at the University of Colorado, but his experience is a prime example of how dangerous social media can be if athletes do not take caution before picking up their phones.
"These kids are putting things out there that they think is funny or harmless, but they have to be really careful," Field head football coach Matt Furino said. "Back when I was that age, if you did or said something stupid, it was just a story. But now the things they say are a reality that they can't live down."
The Ohio High School Athletic Association, the governing body for high school athletics in the state, has no official policy as it pertains to the use of social media, instead choosing to leave that in the hands of its member schools.
"The OHSAA doesn't have any statewide policies or regulations pertaining to social media," OHSAA Director of Information Services Tim Stried said. "We feel that is something for each local school to decide.
"Obviously, we hope that the school takes a strong stance against any kind of inappropriate behavior and keeps the ideals of sportsmanship and our Respect the Game program in mind," Stried added.
WITH THE responsibility of education and enforcement in the hands of coaches and administrators, Furino is far from the only person still feeling out the best way to enlighten his players on the pitfalls of social media.
The cost of saying the wrong thing on Twitter can be what happened to Wright, or it can be an extra bit of motivation for the opposition going into Friday night.
Kent Roosevelt head football coach John Nemec is perhaps the best example of someone who has seen both sides of the fence when it comes to methods of communication.
Now in his 33rd year as a head coach, Nemec said he remembers the kind of messages he used to deliver to his players.
"In the old days, we'd tell our kids not to go to the next town over and beat on your chest in the middle of main street," Nemec, who admitted he is still using a flip phone, joked. "We always wanted our players to avoid situations that put you in contact with the people we're playing, and that is still the case with Twitter and Facebook."
Waterloo head football coach Nathan Peters is in his first year in charge of a program, and the youngest coach in the Portage Trail Conference said that the problem is not any easier to solve for a Gen Xer.
"I think I have a decent grasp on technology, but we're still all trying to learn how [social media] works as coaches," Peters admitted. "We want the kids to know that they can express themselves, but they have to understand that what you say is out there forever now.
"We don't want our kids talking about other teams we play, and we don't want cases of cyber bullying, because that is a big issue in schools today," Peters added.
PETERS operates an official Facebook page for the program, and the former Garrettsville Garfield assistant said he hopes that his usage of social media can serve as a positive influence on his players.
"Social media is a great tool and I use Facebook as a way to reach out to our players, as well as our alumni and parents," Peters said. "[Social media] gives people another way to follow our team, and I hope that I can serve as a good example."
Streetsboro head football coach John Arlesic said he has sought some outside help when it comes to teaching his players about how to conduct themselves online.
The NFL shared its player development information packets with the Rockets coaching staff, and Arlesic said the work done by the NFL has proven valuable in educating his players on making the right choices.
"[The NFL] gave us a real nice planner and we got to see the kinds of things that the NFL talks to their players about when it comes to social media," Arlesic said. "We tell our players that they're going to be held liable for anything they say online."
And if the NFL -- or what happened to an elite prospect like Wright -- can't get through to Arlesic's players? Well, the long-time coach said there is one other person who might just work.
"My big line is that if what you're going to type isn't something you would text to your mother, you don't write it," Arlesic joked. "That work has worked well for us and I think that kids really understand what we're trying to teach them.
"Wright was able to land somewhere because he's a blue-chip player. What happens if you're just a Division II talent? You're not going anywhere if you make those bad decisions."
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