It seems media literacy (or the recognized need of it) has worked its way into the athletic departments of some major colleges. As this Associated Press article reports, the online profiles of college athletes are now being closely monitored, or, in some cases, banned altogether. This is all due to some troubles arising from questionable photos and video footage, as well as comments made by and about the athletes themselves. With Web 2.0, hard proof that the starting quarterback got drunk over the weekend is now available online. The locker room has been replaced with Facebook as the primary site for griping about coaches, and schools aren’t too happy about any of it. In response, some schools require their athletes to sign an “Internet ethics” policy, and others cover appropriate online behavior in their student-athlete handbook.
All of this is a bandage over the real problem, which is a lack of media literacy and plain old responsibility. Everyone, not just athletes, needs to understand the possible consequences of material that is posted online, and it needs to be taught beginning at a young age. Right now, few if any of the average college-age students have received any formal media literacy training, and one could argue that they make these mistakes because they weren’t carefully taught. Of course, knowing that a certain action could be hurtful doesn’t necessarily keep people from doing bad things–but at least they go into the situation with awareness, and they have no excuse but to take full responsibility for their actions.
When I was in high school, the athletic code was breached all the time but rarely enforced, even in the case where a student was found drunk by her father, who happened to be the coach of her gymnastics team. If that were to happen today, her father would have to stand up to the entire athletic department and explain why she should be exempt from punishment, even as a video of her drinking is playing on their computer screens. Accountability is always a positive thing, and it is a tough lesson that we must each take responsibility for what we do every day of our lives. People are people, and by definition we all make mistakes, but the Internet can completely change the lessons we learn from them. Perhaps our mistake lies in not teaching students about the power of media, but the lesson–which some have not yet learned–should be that quick fix-it measures, like banning social networking or the signing of an Internet ethics policy, are not enough.