This week it was announced that Washington State head football coach Mike Leach is banning his players from using the social networking website, Twitter. The move was strange, it was asinine, and it bordered on downright creepy.
It's one thing to ban certain players who have perhaps embarrassed the university, or to inform players that certain behavior will have consequences either on Twitter or in practice. But for a football coach at a public university to exercise prior restraint over a social networking site is taking controlling to teenage boyfriend-esque heights.
It was a particularly curious move for a head coach who is more famous for saying weird things than for his moderate but palpable success on the football field. Leach must be a bold man to moralize about anything his players say, given that the quote he's most associated with is a hyper-chauvinist remark about "fat little girlfriends."
Fat Little Girlfriends (via Geno S)
Remember, Leach was a very famous employee of the state of Texas, making every overweight girl at Texas Tech feel like he was taking a shot at her.
Freedom of speech is a fickle thing and WSU certainly has the right to monitor what its players say in the public sphere. What the state's second highest paid employee doesn't have the right to do, however, is tell students at a public school that their scholarships are dependent upon his ability to dictate every aspect of their personal lives he wants to.
It's an aggressively reactionary move, one that stinks of a coach who wants to feel in control, in the face of a season where he doesn't have nearly as much control as he'd like. His quarterbacks aren't playing well, his wide receivers are dropping balls and his reputation as an "offensive genius" is losing credibility as his team struggles to score in the twenties every game.
Doubtlessly, Leach's twitter ban was met by Cougar fans with replies of, "it's his team, they're his rules," and "the players need to buy in, Leach knows more about coaching than we do," and all other sorts of nonsense.
What, however, would those fans think if their employers told them that they would be fired for posting on WSU sports related message boards? Not posting at work, or on work property, mind you, but from their living rooms?
They'd feel infringed upon, needlessly micromanaged and scapegoated. They'd feel that their bosses were trampling on their right to free speech, not even limiting speech to prevent harm, but taking away the very possibility of speech. And they'd be right.
When entering a contract or scholarship agreement one inherently gives up certain rights, as part of the natural give and take of any agreement. Those rights given up have to serve some purpose, and they have to be realistic and proportional or the agreement isn't valid.
Does the players' use of Twitter (not what they say but the very fact they have the opportunity to say it) present a conflict of interest? No.
Does it affect performance on the field? No.
Lots of coaches have had a lot more success than Leach without taking steps that are so controlling, so insecure that they're more befitting a child who won't share his toys than a grown man.
If the argument is that the players are representatives of the university, than the answer is simple. Tell them not to put "WSU" in their twitter handles, or to express that their thoughts are their own in their personal summary.
Even a ban on particular words or a type of language would be understandable, telling students that they don't have the right to express themselves publicly, however, is not.
If what the players are doing and saying is such a grievous offence against the team and the school than they should be kicked off the team or out of school for transgressing, not banned from saying non-offensive things.
Leach is there to coach the players, not to be their parents. A scholarship agreement gives him the right to yell at players, to coach them and to dictate playing time. It doesn't give him the right to control every facet of their life he doesn't agree with.
A public school like WSU shouldn't support Leach in this quixotic crusade, and no player nor recruit should ever agree to such a compact.