Thursday, July 12, 2012

Penn State Freeh Report on Sandusky proves NCAA schools should not social media monitor student athletes

"The Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of the Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky" was released today. The author of the report, Louis Freeh stated, "the most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized".

The report's findings are more troubling than imagined. The report and Louis Freeh's public statements after the report's release indicate that Penn State engaged in a massive cover up to protect its reputation. I believe the linchpin of these findings was the digital evidence. Since the investigators were unable to interview former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former Vice President Gary Schultz, and former head coach Joe Paterno after emails indicating a cover up may have occurred a reasonable person may conclude a cover up happened.

Without the emails that indicated that all four men were aware of Sandusky's criminal activities in 2001, it would have been difficult to conclude that a cover up occurred. However, the digital evidene appears to indicate that a cover up went from the head coach through the athletic director to the president of Penn State.

This scandal demonstrates that schools should not hire social media monitoring companies to follow their student-athletes' or their employees' social media accounts. With access or knowledge comes responsibility. Companies with names like UDiligence, Varsity Monitor, Jump Forward, etc... are trying to persuade schools that they need to monitor their student-athletes in the digital world in a manner that they don't do so in the real world. Some companies claim that because they only monitor public and not password protected student-athlete content their services are better for universities. Unfortunately, the people who run these social media monitoring companies don't understand social media, NCAA compliance, or the law.

Once a school has been put on notice that one of their student-athletes has committed a crime they must follow the Clery Act and report it. What happens if a school is social media monitoring a star student-athlete and becomes aware that the student has or may have committed a crime or an NCAA infraction before a big game? Will the school suspend the student for the game or allow the student to play?

The bottom line is that athletic directors who continue to listen to self-described social media consultants may be putting not only their programs, but also their schools, and themselves at risk for tremendous legal liability. Did Joe Paterno ever think that emails from 10+ years ago could destroy his reputation and create tremendous legal liability for Penn State and/or his family? Therefore, why would any coach or athletic director want to create more digital evidence that may be utilized against his program and/or himself in the future?

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