"What would my grandmother think?"
If Yuri Wright had asked himself that simple question before sending out a series of offensive tweets, he probably wouldn't have hit the button. And the University of Michigan wouldn't have rescinded its scholarship offer. And Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., wouldn't have expelled him.
Twitter might be the equivalent of high school doodling 30 years ago, but those scribbled messages on notebook covers weren't transmitted through cyberspace for the entire world to see. Even the average high school and college student can lose out on opportunities because of inappropriate social media postings. But top-ranked athletes with interest from schools such as Notre Dame, Colorado and Rutgers are watched as closely as anyone and should know better than to unleash tweets that are sexually graphic or racial.
"This could be the first … example of Twitter really hurting a [top-flight] kid," national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell told the Star-Ledger. "The shame of it is that I know every kid was warned. I know conversations occur — especially at Don Bosco."
Wright, a senior cornerback, was expelled last week after a screen grab of his Twitter feed went viral. The exposed tweets began in July and continued through Jan. 7. The account has been taken down, but the damage is done.
You hope that youngsters hear this story and learn a lesson, but you wonder. Wright isn't the first athlete to find trouble through tweeting, and it's doubtful that he'll be the last.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall lost an endorsement deal with Champion for his controversial tweets last May after Osama bin Laden's death. NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne caused an uproar last month with tweets that criticized a breast-feeding mom. After the Detroit Lions' playoff loss at New Orleans, cornerback Aaron apologized for calling angry fans "broke & miserable" in a tweet. Meanwhile, Twitter rants from Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West have become legendary.
Schools have tried to contain the social media explosion, with varying results. While some opt for lectures on being careful and responsible when tweeting, others have banned athletes from using Twitter. Schools that aren't that heavy-handed have new tools at their disposal to track and monitor social media activity.
Wright will likely recover from this episode and land a scholarship somewhere. "He's a good kid, and I think he has a bright college future, and I wish him the best of luck," Don Bosco coach Greg Toal told the Star-Ledger, adding that players were cautioned multiple times about using social media and the consequences. "There is no question Don Bosco had to do what it had to do."
There's also no question who any would-be tweeters should think about before posting. If Grandma would disapprove, they should reconsider.