Lessons our young people need to learn

By Bill Barrows

Until the late 1960’s, there was an unwritten rule between sportswriters and professional athletes that what was seen and heard of athletes inside the clubhouse or outside the locker room, in restaurants, bars or hotels was “off base” and assumedly outside of what was written in newspapers, or  reported on the radio or television.

That is not the way it is in this age of social media. In fact, for whatever reason, an athlete or entertainer’s every move has become public knowledge, especially when that behavior is questionable. Gossip columns in entertainment publications were common as far back as the 1930’s but athletes were largely left alone. This seemed to hold true until the best-selling book Ball Four, a book by baseball pitcher Jim Bouton that chronicled his 1969 season with a frank, insider's look at a professional sports team.

The backdrop for the book was the Seattle Pilots' one and only operating season, though Bouton was traded to the Houston Astros late in the season. Unlike previous sports works, Ball Four named names and described a side of baseball that was previously unseen. Bouton did this by writing about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts; not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies, the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, and the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself.

The next thing you know, there were investigative sports reporters snooping around, reporting every digression. It seemed that anytime a player stepped outside of a hotel, someone was following, hoping that they would get enough fodder to write a story describing a scandal that sold more newspapers. Some struck gold. And playing careers were ruined. That is not necessarily the reporters fault. But it did cause ridicule and finger pointing into ethics questions of both reporters and athletes.

Fast forward to the “social media” era that is still most likely in its infancy stages. Pictures, notes and conversations end up as texts, email content, Facebook and Instagram posts that incriminate people when caught in compromising situations or say the wrong things. Let alone the athletes who can’t resist getting on social media to see what others think of their just concluded game or performance and angrily reply or post something that throws a teammate or coach under the bus and creates controversy and ultimately chemistry issues within the team.

In the past few days, Twitter posts and texts from 3 young Major League baseball players have surfaced that are several years old that contain racial slurs or thoughts that are inappropriate in today’s society. These posts are probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is ballooning into negative press for the athletes. But when they were written, most likely they were posted by then immature teenagers who were dealing with peers in a negative light and didn’t have any idea of the short term ramifications, let alone the long term ones. There is still no excuse for the act or the thoughts.

I have a Facebook account, Twitter, actually 2, and an Instagram account. Plus, many of you read these articles on the internet. I also spend time with athletes at several levels; broadcast games (Wabash WebTV) observe them, mentor and coach a few. Let alone the contact I have with young athletes and their parents through my daily interactions at the YMCA.

There are a lot of traps that we as humans can fall into. One of them is negative social media. As the old saying goes, “you can’t un-ring a bell!” Once something is said, whether it’s good or bad, it can be recorded or sent via any of the aforementioned electronic sources.

Athletic departments at many schools have created social media guidelines for their athletes and parents to follow. I’m not sure any professional team has done so or can enforce one like schools and institutions can due to a unionized workforce.

A recent article by former Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten contains the best advice this side of what my parents taught my siblings and I many years ago. Don’t ever say or do anything that you don’t want someone to question you about later in a public forum. Witten’s advice is below:

Don’t read your mentions good or bad – the feedback that matters is from your coach and those you respect.

Don’t reply to a negative; keep your eye above the spectator line.

Negative social media is often not indicative of the real world.

Use social media as a way to stay informed and connect.

Don’t post anything that wouldn’t make your family proud.

Again, enough said.

Posted on 2018 Aug 07