UNC students celebrated the right to free speech Tuesday — and learned why, for student athletes, that right is limited.
The UNC Center for Media Law and Policy organized a panel Tuesday called “Why Can’t We Tweet? The First Amendment, UNC Athletes and Social Media” to discuss why the social media accounts of student athletes are closely monitored.
The panel was part of UNC’s fourth annual First Amendment Day celebration.
The panelists at the forum included UNC Associate Athletic Director Paul Pogge, professor of exercise and sport science Barbara Osborne, UNC field hockey team member Meghan Lyons, and The Daily Tar Heel Sports Editor Brandon Moree.
The issue of athletes’ free speech comes into question with the use of Varsity Monitor, a third party monitoring system used by the athletic department to access athletes’ social media accounts to oversee posts.
“When student athletes come, they pledge to follow the code of conduct and register their Twitter and Facebook with Varsity Monitor,” Pogge said.
“Athletes make a choice to be part of the team, and part of that is to follow the guidelines set.”
The specific guidelines UNC’s athletic department applies to student athletes are available on GoHeels.com under “Compliance.”
The policy states that student athletes must conduct themselves in a responsible and respectful manner at all times.
Chadd Pierce, a senior on the varsity track and field team and a communication studies major, said he doesn’t have a problem with athletic regulation.
“As an athlete, it’s a privilege to be on the team that you are on. I really like our University’s policy on social media,” he said.
Osborne addressed the legal side of the issue, defending its constitutionality.
“I can say unequivocally that (monitors) do not violate free speech rights or privacy rights,” she said.
“Free speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want, at any time, for any reason, without having repercussions. As long as the school has a good reason, to maintain order and discipline, it can regulate the time, place and manner (of speech).”
Members of the panel said varsity athletes are always in the public eye, and social media posts reflect not only themselves, but also their teammates and University.
Lyons summed up the regulations on athletes’ social media in a quote she said her team follows.
“To whom much is given, much is expected.”
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