CSR: Sports Edition

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Posted: November 20, 2014, 8:10 p.m.
by Doug Killough.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” That statement holds true in more ways than one. It’s important for companies and organizations to practice healthy corporate social responsibility to ensure brand development, maintain an admirable reputation and establish a strong consumer base.

Corporate social responsibility usually means a company makes a positive contribution to society. But allow me to introduce a new idea of corporate social responsibility; I call it collegiate social responsibility.

Collegiate social responsibility occurs when the particular company or organization is a college or university, and the effort to practice healthy social responsibility comes from athletes. This new CSR is the effort to maintain a healthy reputation by limiting or managing what college athletes say or do. My point: it seems like all we hear about on social media pertaining to sports are college athletes embarrassing themselves and their respective schools.

Some athletes seem to be a nightmare for public relations professionals. With Twitter dominating mass communication today, we all have to be careful what we post. This is especially true for college athletes who are the “faces” of their universities.

Recently, we saw Jameis Winston receive suspension after he shouted an obscene remark in a student union building on the campus of Florida State University. Winston is the most recent Heisman Trophy winner and the starting quarterback for the 2013 BCS National Champions, Florida State University. He is the face of the university and must be held to higher standards because of his role in the spotlight.

80079423_66fbd18973_bFormer “incidents” by Winston include alleged rape, which he was later found not guilty, and the theft of crab legs. While one is a far more serious issue, both seemed to weaken his credibility as a leader and ultimately hurt FSU’s image. In this case, Winston has shown no collegiate social responsibility on behalf of the Florida State football program.

Florida State started a social media campaign using #AskJameis, but because of Winston’s poor decisions, the campaign backfired. People began using #AskJameis as an easy tool for mockery, as if Florida State and Jameis Winston needed any more ridicule from fans. Ultimately, the lack of collegiate social responsibility damaged Florida State University and Winston’s reputations.

We have also seen similar situations in the past with the rise of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel was always in the news for some picture he posted on social media or something he said. His posts were hardly ever positive, like when he said he could not wait to leave College Station.

College athletes should undergo media training, including social media training. Their universities should hold them to a higher standard and expect them to understand potential consequences for their lack of collegiate social responsibility. Winning the Heisman Trophy illuminates every action made from that point on. In Winston’s case, he is no longer just Jameis Winston; he is now the national champion, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the Florida State University Seminoles. It’s time for universities to invest in their athletes — it’s smart public relations; it’s collegiate social responsibility.

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