By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
National Signing Day was once a day of celebration.
It originated with ballcaps donning logos of several universities atop a folding table and one high school senior seated in a letterman jacket, beaming with intel possessed by only his or her closest circle.
Those were the golden, pre-Twitter days.
Surprise signings have since gone the way of the floppy disks and cassette tapes. They’ve been replaced by several hundred “insider” recruitment websites and grown adults who abuse their social media influence to manipulate 18-year-old kids into disclosing life-altering information.
These folks are often the first to report of official visits and early commitments. They are also quick to cast judgment or help fuel vile feedback when a kid decides to sign with university Z after visiting Y and verbally committing to X — often ignoring the coaching changes that resulted in the change of heart.
This should go without saying, but the decision that goes into signing that little slip of paper is not easy, nor is it one that should ever be taken lightly. It’s literally a life-changing signature.
In recent years, social media and retweet-hungry media members have bull-rushed their way into the spotlight on the day meant to celebrate student-athletes. It’s become a disgusting game that leverages media influence to persuade a high school senior, or even younger, to disclose personal information in the hopes of “going viral.”
Instead of allowing these young adults to confide in family and coaches, some in the social media landscape (because it’s important to differentiate between reporters and social-media posters) would rather be the “first” to “break” a story. And, in doing so, they’ve broken the system.
Ever wonder why a student-athlete feels the need to tweet — “Blessed to receive my 47th offer from the university of hard knocks” — after each and every collegiate athletic program shows even the slightest interest? They know a member of the media — whether credible or not — will pick up the info and redistribute it as fact.
That single tweet will then drive more followers — now from a different university — to the student-athlete’s account.
It’s a game of mouse and mouse: Neither has the cheese, but both have tails worth chasing in hopes of finding that larger meal.
The athlete wants to catch the golden-ticker offer from Alabama or Texas A&M. The social media-using adult wants that first big break via a kid who has often entrusted him or her with their future plans.
The catch is the student-athlete is learning, while the so-called professional should know better.
The Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics, something that all media outlets should adhere by, lays out the responsibilities of media rather simply. Here are a few.
- Minimize Harm: Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles.
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
- Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
- Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
So before anyone attempts to toss shade toward a high school senior for a change of heart, remember this: These are young adults — not Saturday superheroes or future Sunday statistics for your fantasy team.
Let the kids play. And then allow them to sign where they and their families think is best for their future.
Then, after a few handshakes and photos that will be shared free-of-charge with the family members who are in front of the camera lens, tweet a note of congratulations and link to your article after they’ve had their moment.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith
**Side note: For any high school athlete out there, please learn to use a comma. It should read, “Blessed to receive my 47th offer, this one from the university of grammar.”**