How Rashard Mendenhall’s retirement announcement can teach athletes about responsible social media use

Social media for athletes
Featured image (c) Jason Howie, flickr

Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall made headlines earlier this week when he decided to retire from the NFL at the uncommonly young age of 26. Why? As Mendenhall puts it: “I’ve greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality.”

Football rules and regulations continue to evolve in an attempt to keep players safe. Less noticed, perhaps, is the way the game has evolved also due to popular media. Players’ actions are scrutinized on and off the field and showmanship has become a key ingredient for effective media clips.

“But I am not an entertainer,” says Mendenhall. “My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine.”

For better or worse, social media have greatly accentuated the element of entertainment in sports. Mendenhall’s brother, a high school and youth football coach, once told Rashard that it seems his players just want to “look cool, celebrate after plays, and get more followers on Instagram!” Unfortunately, such a media-focused and appearance-driven strategy has led some big-name players into controversy. College players, too, have felt the burn in the past few years from both their own posts and those of critics.

“The reality is that once something is on the Internet, it’s out there forever,” said Neumann University’s Dr. Margaret Stewart last night in a special presentation to student-athletes. “There is no ‘delete’ button online.”

With this fact in mind, coaches, athletic directors and student-athletes alike are growing increasingly concerned about how the heavy emphasis today’s student-athletes place on social media can affect school, team and personal brands. But as damaging as inappropriate social media activity can be, it can be equally as beneficial for athletes and their teams when leveraged in positive ways. Here are three key takeaways for student-athletes (at any level of athletic competition) to get the most out of their social accounts:

1. Always think before you post.

Ask yourself: Have you thought this activity through, or are you just responding for the sake of responding? We are each given a voice online, and the way we interact goes a long way in determining how that voice is perceived.

2. Think about the future.

That party photo may have seemed fun to show off, but how might it seem to others? When you’re looking for jobs, you’ll start to worry that those photos can be incriminating.

“Privacy is a curtain,” says Dr. Stewart. “Computer programmers can easily get past social media network privacy settings,” so be sure that anything you post on your social accounts accurately reflects your personal brand in a positive and responsible way. Many employers can, and do, include social media research as part of their background checks on candidates.

3. Consider how you’re representing your school, team, and teammates.

As a member of a team you have an automatic, and strong, connection with your teammates and your school. For every social media activity, think: Am I okay representing the people whom I trust, and who trust me, in this way?

Sometimes, all it takes is one discouraging post to bring down an entire team. Conversely, a positive post can go a long way in motivating teammates. At its core, this is what teamwork is about. It is not enough to simply be present on a team; being an effective teammate means supporting your team and fostering an environment for success.

Remember that for all the potential pitfalls of social media, there are equally as many opportunities when they are leveraged in a positive way! Social media can be used to connect with fans, network with coaches and athletes, promote your team and games, encourage teammates, recruit new teammates, and more.

About Jeffrey B. Eisenberg, M.A. // Coordinator, New Media, Communications and Events, ISSCD

At Neumann, Jeff works to build the Institute’s communication strategy with a focus on developing valuable resources relevant to student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and all groups the Institute strives to reach. He also serves as a co-chaplain of the Neumann Cross Country and Track & Field teams. Jeff holds a B.A. and M.A. in Strategic Communication from Villanova University.

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