Gamecock student-athletes are getting lessons in how their actions can affect their personal brand as well as that of the University of South Carolina. Janet Judge, a sports lawyer who advises schools across the country on a wide variety of sports issues including NCAA eligibility, academic fraud, social media, compliance, hazing and harassment, recently spoke to more than 500 current South Carolina student-athletes about how off the field actions can impact their university, team, teammates and their own future.
"People pay attention to things that student-athletes do," Judge told the Gamecock student-athletes. "The power of your social media is incredible. The University of South Carolina is on your resume for the rest of your lives. When you put stuff out there that brings the brand up, that has a positive effect on you and the institution. When you're doing things that are negative and derogatory, it brings the brand down. Nothing is anonymous."
Judge encouraged the Gamecocks to take control of the future of their own personal brands.
"The message is about risk and how much risk you are willing to tolerate for yourself, for your athletics program, and your institution," Judge said.
Judge showed current instances of embarrassing and damaging social media posts from student-athletes around the country. She detailed how quickly items can go viral to unintended audiences which could lead to loss of eligibility as well as the loss of jobs by coaches and administrators, and how such actions could affect the student-athlete's ability to get a job in the future.
"Think about your own brand," Judge said. "Look at all of your social media posts from the last 60 days. Is that the brand you want out there about you? You have to take control of your brand."
"You always think it can't happen to you," said sophomore softball student-athlete Kaylea Snaer. "What stuck to me is that it is our brand and South Carolina is always going to be on our resume, so we need to be careful in how we are representing ourselves."
Judge also showed how more and more employers are researching social media profiles of prospective employees. She gave examples of how posts that are thought to be temporary or deleted can easily be retrieved and how the Freedom of Information Act can make embarrassing or illegal activity public.
"It was good to see how we could be portrayed on social media and how we might not worry about certain things that we probably should," said Kayla Lampe, a senior on the track team. "It definitely makes me think about my future."
The event directly ties into the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise's core of values which states "University of South Carolina student-athletes live in an environment of respect and dignity, embodied by the Carolinian Creed." Student-athletes are required to hold each other mutually-accountable for upholding these values.
"Janet Judge is hands down best in the country," said Judy Van Horn, senior associate athletics director. "We want our student-athletes to have the best information available so they can make smart decisions. It's important to educate student-athletes not only in the classroom and on the field, but it's also important to help them be good citizens and grow as leaders so they're better prepared after college."
"What stuck to me is that it is our brand and South Carolina is always going to be on our resume, so we need to be careful in how we are representing ourselves."sophomore Kaylea Snaer
Sexual assault has become a hot-button topic in sports, and student-athletes were informed about the differing standards of proof in criminal cases at the institutional level and how each school has an obligation to conduct its own investigation, as well as definitions of consent.
"Even if a person says `yes', but that person is drunk or under the influence of drugs, that consent does not count," Judge said. "Being in a relationship with someone is not consent for sexual acts."
"I thought it was really helpful," said Kaleb Zuidema, a sophomore on the track and field team. "A lot of people look up to us. We're always going to be Gamecocks, so it's good to always have a positive image. You see it on SportsCenter or something like that, but then you see the facts of how often it happens and you realize how important those topics are and to not put yourself in those situations. It was great to see all of the student-athletes here."
Hazing was also discussed, and student-athletes learned that South Carolina is one of the few states with laws punishing individuals for having knowledge about hazing but failing to report it.
Judge has worked with student-athletes and staff at more than 500 colleges and universities, both on general topics of leadership and with regard to specific investigation and resolution of allegations of misconduct.
"She did a fantastic job in relaying her key points," Said Ben Dietrich, a sophomore on the men's golf team. "A lot of it is stuff that we really don't think about, and she put great emphasis on things where we need to take a closer look. I think most of us can leave here with some key points to make our presence known on social media in a positive way. I think it was a great idea to have this."