Freedom of Speech / by James Leath

As part of the leadership curriculum at IMG Academy, I teach about social media awareness. In preparation for presenting to a team, I scour our athletes' social media profiles looking for things that may hinder their future opportunities. Inevitably, I find racial slurs, sexist remarks, hate speech, and incriminating photos. I take screen shots of these comments and grab the photos so I can show them to the athletes.

There are always one or two athletes who object, citing freedom of speech. They are 100% right – they are allowed to do and post whatever they want. I tell them I am not here to judge their actions and remind them I was once in high school and made many mistakes. The difference is there are no photos to prove what I did and no statements online to show my ignorant thoughts toward other people.

(Caution – I don’t recommend doing this for your teams unless you have created a relationship of trust with your athletes and they honestly believe you have their best interests at heart. This type of conversation can easily be interpreted as “the adult coming down hard on the child” and that is a hard identity to shake once earned by a coach).

Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequences. What is said online is searchable and incriminating. As a hiring manager, the first thing I do when receiving a resume is look up their social media profiles. Google, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook help me decide if a candidate would fit the culture at IMG Academy. College coaches do the same thing with prospective athletes, except they hire agencies to do their searching – agencies with tools much greater than what I have at my own disposal.

PARENTS- Here is a tip I have learned from talking to the recruiters who come through IMG Academy (Over 30 schools have been on campus in the last few weeks for our football team alone). These recruiters are looking YOU up, too. If you have a tendency to demean your child’s coaches and fill up your social media feeds with negativity, that goes into the report. There was no shortage of stories of athletes passed up by colleges because mom and dad had a history of causing problems. Do not, I repeat, do not tell a recruiter how much you hate your child’s coach or how terrible that organization is. You wouldn’t go into a job interview and throw your last boss under the bus (at least, you shouldn’t if you want that job), so keep your mouth shut before you taint your child’s reputation with your observations.

We a grow and evolve through life experiences. As coaches and teachers, we are in the adult-making business and need to show our students what emotional maturity looks like. We cannot blast refs at games and expect our students to keep their cool in the same situation. They are watching us, they are always watching us, and they are taking notes on our behavior. Is your behavior worth imitating?