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After Ohio Rape Case, New Social Media Rules for Student Athletes

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A rape scandal involving student athletes in Ohio has prompted a federal prosecutor to call for new social media guidelines for student athletes -- rules that acknowledge the dangerous cocktail created when drug and alcohol use meets smartphones.

The program was initiated by U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld in early August after two Ohio high school football players were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl under the influence of alcohol. The sexual assault drew international attention because of the use of "text messages and social media in exposing the attack," reports The Associated Press.

The two athletes were sentenced to juvenile detention, but new social media policies may curb this kind of conduct.

'Project Future'

The new social media policy unveiled in Wheeling, West Virginia (not far from Steubenville, Ohio, where the rape case occurred), is an extension of an existing drug education program, "Project Future." A hybrid drug/alcohol/social media program dubbed "Project Future Two-a-Days" is replacing it, reports the AP.

"Project Future Two-a-Days" will spend equal time educating student athletes about the distractions of drugs and the dangers of social media, as well as how misusing either can land you in court.

It is uncertain whether either program would have helped Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond (the Ohio student athletes convicted in the Steubenville case), but it may have prevented their distribution of the rape victim's pictures via text and social media.

Similar Programs Uncertain

While "Project Future" is just beginning to tackle social media issues for student athletes, some California schools are dismantling their policies for disciplining high school players for misbehaving online.

A school in Lodi, California, has suspended its policy over worries about students' constitutional rights, responding to criticism that punishing athletes for "demeaning statements" or "reference to violence" were too broad and in violation of First Amendment's free speech protections, reports Education Week.

Colleges across the nation are facing issues with their student-athlete social media guidelines too. One University of Virginia athlete complained that the school's policies force students to "friend" their coaches or face discipline, reports Social Media Today.

There should be a fair balance to be struck between free speech concerns and corralling student-athletes from committing criminal acts on social media, but there is yet no proven model for schools to adopt.

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