Thursday, September 1, 2011

Regulating student-athletes' social media

A fellow law professor raises the following issue: What are the legal (especially First Amendment) implications of recent attempts by some schools (including, apparently, the University of North Carolina) to ban student-athletes from using Twitter and other social media? Can the schools do it? Should they do it? What arguments could student-athletes make in response and would they work?

This is the first I have heard about this issue. My initial, descriptive thought is that such a ban would be upheld on the strength of some unholy hybrid of Garcetti and Morse. Normatively, I find that a bit disheartening. I would hope for a more nuanced analysis, in which we might separate what a player does as an athlete playing for the team (and thus on behalf of the school) and as a student. After all, can it be that student-athletes have fewer First Amendment rights than student non-athletes? I remember watching a documentary a few years ago about John Wooden's UCLA dynasty, which described how Wooden permitted (and even somewhat encouraged) players such as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton to get involved in campus activism and protests during the off-season (over Viet Nam and civil rights, primarily), with the caveat that they not do anything to embarrass the team (read: "Don't get arrested"). Forty years later and schools are afraid of having players tweet or post status updates?