By Sam Arnold, LPC student at College of Law
What can a Sports Lawyer do to help help clients when it comes to social networking?
I recently wrote an article on the dangers faced by professional athletes when using social networking sites such as Twitter and FaceBook.
A number of footballers in recent years have fallen foul of their respective clubs’ professional conduct provisions, and faced financial sanctions from governing bodies, such as the Football Association.
Carlton Cole and Ryan Babel have both received fines misplaced “jokes”, Danny Gabbidon and Darren Bent received similar punishment for foul mouth rants aimed at their clubs fans and Directors, and Jose Enrique was penalised for accidentally disclosing team tactics prior to kick-off. Whilst these cases were all in breach of both club and FA Rules, the punishments for them rightly reflect their nature as mere misdemeanours.
A more extreme example of the misuse of a social network site is the case of Leon Knight, who last month had his contract terminated by Glentoran Football Club. Due to previous contractual difficulties with a former club, Knight was forced to play his football inNorthern Irelandas no official transfer to another English club was capable of being sanctioned. Finding another club might prove more difficult than ever for Knight following an homophobic outburst on Twitter.
For a sports lawyer, the main question has to be “What can be done in order to prevent clients from becoming potentially liable for causing serious offence and/or committing an illegal act whilst using social networking sites?”
The obvious answer is education. Sportsmen and sportswomen need to be made aware of the dangers of using Twitter and FaceBook et al, how they can prevent themselves from becoming liable for what they have tweeted / posted, and just how serious sports clubs, organisations, governing bodies, and even the Police and Judiciary are taking offensive comments made.
A number of football clubs have stepped up their efforts in recent years to improve the media handling skills of their players. Manchester United andEnglandforward Wayne Rooney is a prime example. When Rooney joined the club he was the most expensive teenager in world football – he was also incredibly uncomfortable and nervous in front of a television camera. Now, there is a notable change. He speaks clearly, in a more educated manner, and perhaps most importantly, he looks as though he is actually thinking before he speaks; therefore, reducing the risk that he may something which he may later regret.
Obviously sites such as Twitter are relatively new concepts, and not every athlete uses them, but there should be no reason why they should not now be treated any differently, or approached in a different manner to a newspaper, magazine or television interview.
Full Contact have partnered with Stuart Skinner of PHA Management, to assist clients with reputation management and PR, much of which is now controlled through social networking.
Dan Chapman, Senior Partner at Full Contact hopes that the appointment will serve as an extra dimension to the service that the firm already offers its clients and will be a practical way of eliminating the potential pitfalls of social interaction with the general public.
Social networking sites are a great platform for developing the player / fan relationship that so many want. Sportsmen such as Rio Ferdinand, Shane Warne and recent NBA Championship MVB and far flung Liverpool FC shareholder LeBron James are all prominent tweeters, with millions of followers between them and Twitter has provided a great way for their fans to show support and communicate with their favourite athletes. Hopefully, with the right guidance and tutelage more sportsmen and women will become more comfortable using this platform and social networking will be fully embraced as the genuinely positive, interactive tool it was designed to be.
Education might not prevent comments such as those made by Leon Knight being repeated, but it may bring an end to unnecessary misdemeanours, such as the postings of Messrs Bent and Co. This will hopefully, in turn, result in more sportsmen and women being confident using such platforms and social networking will be fully embraced as the genuinely positive, interactive tool it was designed to be.
Find Sam on Twitter @SamAArnold
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Sam Arnold, law student studying the LPC at the College of Law
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