Even a pandemic hasn't stopped player empowerment from emerging as a top priority for college athletes this year. From Pac-12 athletes banding together in the #WeAreUnited movement to try to distribute revenue to players to Oklahoma State football players threatening to boycott because head coach Mike Gundy donned a One America News Network shirt, there have been examples all over the country.
That conversation about the NCAA's definition of amateurism and players' rights resurfaced on Twitter earlier this week when UNC men's basketball players Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks shared their thoughts about the University's decision to send on-campus students home after just one week of classes.
After the news broke, Bacot took to Twitter to pose the question "Student-athletes? Amateurism?? Or employee ?" as a possible reason why college athletes are remaining on campus and receiving different safety protocols compared to regular students when it comes to handling COVID-19.
Brooks echoed Bacot's sentiment on social media, quote-tweeting a message about UNC sending students home with his own "Finesse 101" comment after questioning what made it safe for student-athletes to remain on campus.
Bacot and Brooks declined to be interviewed for this story.
“The student-athletes don’t have to agree with the athletic department every time they make a statement," Steve Kirschner, senior associate athletic director for communications at UNC, said.
"I think each coach has certain guidelines and recommendations, whether it’s dealing with traditional media or social media, every coach talks to his or her team about that," Kirschner said. "Coach (Roy) Williams, and the University in general, know kids have a right to free speech."
Both Bacot and Brooks made it clear in later tweets that they want to play basketball this season, but the duo also pointed out their issues with the University's plan to bring students back to campus in the first place.
“If you want to have a season, and I think Armando and Garrison want to have a season, having them stay here and continue to work out is probably the only way you can go forward," Kirschner said. "I think they understand that."
"We as an athletic department do not view our student-athletes as employees," he added. "Everybody is trying to figure out what’s the best way forward. They want to play. We want them to play. We want there to be school. The University tried to have kids on campus; it didn’t work out. Maybe there’ll be another path going forward, but they understand their health is our top priority."
In the past, some UNC athletes have run into trouble with the athletics department for making public comments about the University online or spending what their coaches believed to be too much time on social media.
Former head football coach Butch Davis banned his team from using Twitter in 2010 after the NCAA began its investigation of members of the football program receiving improper agent benefits.
After former women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell's squad started a losing streak in 2012, she instituted a mid-season Twitter ban for her team as well.
“We want our student-athletes to be able to have free speech and have an opportunity to express their views," Kirschner said. "There have been some times for different reasons when a coach or coaches felt like it was best for their teams not to be on social media and to concentrate on the season ahead. Again, those have been rare instances and for the most part, our students have had a full go at social media.”
Kirschner said the men's basketball team doesn't have any formal differences from the athletic department's social media policy and that Williams is the judge of whether or not a men's basketball player's tweets are appropriate.
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