Social media and sports: What Calipari and Pitino said

Herald-Leader Staff ReportFebruary 20, 2014 

The role of social media in college athletics has turned into a hot topic since Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the stands who was taunting him during a recent game.

The incident raised questions about the pressure college athletes face from fans both in the stands and on the Internet.

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo and Louisville Coach Rick Pitino were invited to discuss the topic on ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show, and both coaches took a hard line about limiting their players' exposure to negative social media comments.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari took his turn Thursday on Mike and Mike. Calipari also said he encourages his players not to read "responses," but he wants them to learn how to use social media properly.

What Calipari said

Here is what Calipari said when asked his perspective on the role that social media is playing with his players:

"This is no disrespect. The coaches you mentioned, I respect them all. They know nothing about social media. Nothing. They don't do it. They feel it's another job.

"What I'm trying to tell our players — and we train them, we bring in professional people — we talk about it, we oversee them, we watch what they put out. If they put out something dumb, we talk to them and tell them, "Why? Why would you do that?

"We also tell them if you're into reading the responses, don't go on Twitter. Twitter is an opportunity. Facebook is an opportunity. To say what you feel, to try to pick people up. To try to be positive. To try to add something to society. To try to let people see you transparently. You cannot be defined if you're on social media by somebody else. You will define yourself. And if it's negative, that's your fault. But here is who you are. And if you are negative, it will come through.

"In five years of being on Twitter and Facebook, what, are you going to lie for five straight years? You are who you are. But we're trying to tell those kids, hey, you build your brand up or you break your brand down. You are who you are through social media.

"I always say, look, I'm not gonna hold my team back from Twitter, Facebook, but I'm gonna teach them. How do you use it for a positive? And, I don't read one response on Twitter and Facebook. I don't read one. So if you come back — there are a lot of bullies and haters on Twitter. I don't read 'em. I don't see 'em. I give out information. I'm transparent to our fans. I tell them how I'm feeling. I talk about the last couple practices. There are things that I want my players to read that I'll put out. I also have things that we do that only go to our players that I put out that I want them to see and hear. Videos and different things. Social media, for anyone to say, don't do it, it's crazy, I don't know what you're talking about. I go home, I got a 17-year-old son, he doesn't watch TV. He's on the computer all day. He watches TV on the computer."

What Pitino said

This quote by Pitino on Monday created a stir about the Louisville coach's views about social media.

"I think anybody in sports who reads social media is not all there," Pitino said during a news conference to preview the Cardinals' game against South Florida. "To me, it's the great class of underachievers who live on the Internet and social media. I think it's people who waste their time, and underachieve because they're not paying attention to what they should be."

The quote went viral, but not with all of the context in many cases. Pitino was responding to a question about one of his players, Russ Smith, saying he sees racist comments about athletes on social media.

Pitino expanded on his comment in an appearance later on Mike and Mike:

"I'm talking about athletes. I'm not talking about media people who need to be part of social media. I'm not talking about Hollywood stars that use it to see how many followers they have.

"I'm talking about athletes, and I use the example of Russ Smith. We're at a town where there are 350,000, 400,000 UK fans. We have a lot of mixed marriages. A lot of Louisville men marry Kentucky women and vice versa. So in that town, immediately after a game, you'll get a lot of Kentucky haters that get on Twitter, that get on social media and just kill our players. So I constantly tell our guys, why would you want to read that type of poison? It's only going to get you in a bad mood. I'm trying to get our players all the time to read more. To pay attention to things that are really, really important. And to get off social media. Because they're on it, according to what they tell me, an average of four hours a day. Now, if they're admitting four hours a day, you know it's five or six.

"It's just for an athlete, for a competitor, to be on social media is just like taking, every hour, a little bit more of poison. Even when they say positive things, it blows you up. It gets you in an unreal world, and it's not healthy for athletes to be on that.

"Now, for everybody else, social media's fine, it's great if that's your choice, rather than go to a movie, rather than read a book, rather than go out and do some things that I think are constructive, that's up to you. Every individual is different. But I think technology today is a great thing in many instances and I think it's poison in others, for people in sports especially."

Pitino went on to say that as useful as technology can be to some people, it can be a detriment to others.

"We're losing our abilities to communicate. Especially young people today. My guys, if they want to ask out a girl to go somewhere, they're going to do it on Facebook or they're going to do it on texting. They are not going to have the courage to get on the phone and get rejected."

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