LSU keeps close eye on player tweets

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There has been a steep learning curve since the advent of social media.

In the world of reporting, as well as recruiting, people are finding the benefits and pitfalls of social networking sites when it comes to sharing their thoughts.

ESPNU 150 recruit Yuri Wright found that out the hard way recently when he was expelled from Don Bosco High School in Ramsey, N.J., for some vulgar tweets.

The incident illustrates what could become a growing trend in Baton Rouge. A healthy portion of LSU's current football roster is active on Twitter, and several members of the current recruiting class have Twitter handles. Even Jeryl Brazil, the school's lone commit to the class of 2013, is active in social media.

For various reasons, a football program as big as LSU can't afford to fall behind the cutting edge. Michael Bonnette, the team's sports information director, said it's a hefty chore to stay ahead of the information emanating from the program.

"There is a responsibility that goes along with having these Twitter accounts, and Facebook and all the social media," he said. "Basically what you are doing is, you're not only communicating with your friends, but with fans and media ... and you had better be aware of that."

While several universities have opted to limit their athletes' exposure to social media, LSU allows its players the freedom to communicate. But it comes with some caveats.

"We don't want them cussing, using foul language or using inappropriate language at all," Bonnette said. "The other thing we encourage is to refrain from talking about team-related matters. That stuff stays in-house. It's an education process, and they're going to make mistakes. They're kids."

LSU has had its share of those types of mistakes. In December of 2009, a message from former left tackle Joseph Barksdale's Twitter account read, "Not gonna be able to make it home for Christmas. This is just another reason why goin to LSU was the biggest mistake of my life."

Barksdale later would say that someone broke into his account to compose the message, and that he had no regrets about attending LSU. But it was an early forecast of the power of social networking.

"You've got to try to make them aware that once you say something, it's out there, and once you hit send, there's no taking it back," Bonnette said.

Another controversial post by an LSU player occurred this month when junior wide receiver Russell Shepard used Twitter as a sounding board to debate whether or not he should leave school to enter the NFL draft.

Bonnette said that it can be challenging to keep track of so much information, but it's important to stay abreast of the situation.

"When Russell was tweeting his stuff, we were on top of that," he said. " 'No surprises' is kind of the theme that we like to live by."

That proposition becomes dicey when dealing with high school recruits who aren't officially affiliated with the university. Bonnette said the program speaks with visiting recruits about the impact and importance of social media, but that it's hard to monitor.

"When they come on their visits, we talk about all of the different issues involving media and social media," he said. "But in terms of a potential student-athlete, and my office looking at what they're saying on Twitter, it's hard to monitor those guys in addition to all the ones that we have here."

With the rapidly expanding role of social media in the 24-hour recruiting cycle, it's just one more learning curve for recruits to tackle.

David Helman covers LSU sports for GeauxTigerNation. He can be reached at helmanespn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @HelmanESPN.