These days, your phone is basically another appendage. Everyone and his mother has a Twitter account, and even your grandmother who isn’t entirely sure what the world wide web is has a Facebook page. It’s not much of a secret, either, that much of today’s college athletics recruiting is done via social media. And I’m going to be honest here: I see a lot of current and prospective athletes screwing themselves over on an almost daily basis.

It’s real talk time here, folks. In my day job, I work with college athletes every day. In particular, I work in a public relations and media liaison position, so I find myself looking at Twitter with a frequency that frankly would be deemed unhealthy by anyone who values things like “a personal life.” I don’t work at the Division I level, but the way people use social media isn’t really impacted by how elite an athlete you are, unless you’re an NBA star with a PR team dedicated to running your social media accounts.

Chances are if you’re reading this, that’s not you. For any young athletes who do happen to read this, I’m just going to give you one piece of advice: please, for the love of whatever god you believe in, think before you hit submit.

It’s unfair to have to watch what you say. After all, your friends are free to say whatever the hell they want, right? Well, for the time being, yes. But it can still come back to bite them down the road. If you don’t think employers scour the internet for questionable social media postings by their potential hires, you’re dreaming. Twitter and Facebook have been the causes of many an individual either not getting a job, or being fired from a job.

And it works the same way with college athletics. If you’re being recruited, you have got to be mindful of what you say. You may only have 500 Twitter followers, but that doesn’t matter. People are watching you, even if they aren’t following. You know the coach at that school you want to attend? He’s reading your Twitter and Facebook to make sure you’ve got the kind of character and integrity he wants associated with his program. If he’s not doing it directly, he’s having an assistant, or a designated social media employee keeping an eye on you. And what you say could be the difference between landing a scholarship or having your recruitment cease altogether.

Think I’m kidding? Think again. Will Brown, the head basketball coach at the University of Albany, has gone on record saying he’ll stop recruiting a kid if his social media presence seems iffy. Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp told that how a high school athlete behaves on social media impacted whether or not he would actually recruit him, and we’re talking about the elite athletes here, too. Specifically, a defensive back named Yuri Wright, who was rated as the No. 40 overall prospect in America and wound up at Colorado, but saw his recruitment nearly come to an end because of his online activity. Not just that – he faced expulsion over his tweets.

What you post on social media can also cost you your spot in athletics altogether, if you’re not careful. Earlier this year, a college athlete named Joey Casselberry was kicked off of Bloomsburg University’s baseball team after posting an offensive tweet about Little League phenom Mo’ne Davis. Bradley Patterson, a former football player for Northern Alabama, lost his spot on the team after making a racially driven tweet about Barack Obama.

But really, it’s not just about what you tweet, it’s about how you tweet. You don’t have to post offensive language to send up red flags to recruiters and coaches. They’re also looking at your every day language, and the kinds of photos you post. Believe me, I speak from experience on that second part. Where I work, there was a freshman on the women’s basketball team who continuously tweeted about cocaine and posted photos of her dorm room mini-fridge filled with cans of Four Loko (a high content, malt alcohol beverage, in case you don’t know). Needless to say, she wasn’t on the team for very long.

Your attitude is easily reflected by what you tweet. It gives insight into how you respond to adversity, how you interact with other people, and just generally what kind of person you really are when you think you’re not being watched.

Trust me here, guys. You’re being watched. You’re being watched by coaches, by fans, and by the media. You’re being watched by school administrators, and by representatives of other schools as well.

It’s not fair that you have to watch what you say, I know. But student-athletes have an incredible opportunity, and are held to higher standards. If you’re a student-athlete at a college, you are a very public representative of that college. If you’re a high school recruit, you’re a potential representative of the college. And the most important thing to remember is that coaches and, especially, their bosses want young athletes who will be positive ambassadors. What you tweet, what you put on Instagram, what you upload to YouTube, and so on, and so on, and so on, can be the difference between living out your dream of playing college sports, and being just another high school has been.

Please keep this in mind, and proceed accordingly.

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