ACT News

Pay them not to tweet

Sports stars should be a paid a bonus for not having a social media profile, according to National Institute of Sport Studies director Keith Lyons, who suggests young athletes should receive cash incentives to limit their digital footprint and stay off Twitter and Instagram.

''Imagine having a scheme, not only of media training that was personalised but actually have the clubs pay the athletes not to have a public presence,'' Professor Lyons said following ex-Canberra Raiders star Josh Dugan's latest social media lapse where he retaliated to trolls by telling one to ''end'' himself.

Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson.
Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson. 

Professor Lyons said athletes like Dugan, who are at risk of causing irreparable damage to their reputations, should also have access to a ''social media circuit breaker'' or they should employ a third party to tweet on their behalf.

''You imagine Josh's contract and what it would be worth. He could actually pay someone full time to be his press assistant and he'll still have money to go shopping,'' he said.

''You're always going to have transgressions, no matter how good your training or your policy is; people do have brain snaps. However when you're in the public domain, it is open season. We need to remember it is always someone's daughter or son, brother or sister we are dealing with.''

Professional athletes lead highly regimented lives. When it comes to Australia's professional football codes, the coaching extends beyond the white lines of the field. Many have their diet, exercise and even their sex lives micromanaged. In 2000 the NRL had one person dedicated to providing welfare and educational support to all clubs; today there are 45 full-time staff.

Every player is taught what to say in front of the cameras and how to construct a heartfelt apology when they mess up. In some regard social media could be seen as the final frontier of the ''real world'' for them. A place where they can be themselves, the person they were before they found themselves in possession of six, or in some cases, seven-figure contracts and lucrative sponsorship deals.

Professor Lyons, who is also the professor of sports science at the University of Canberra, says the current ''one size fits all'' approach to social and traditional media training does not work. He wants associations like the NRL to tailor individual social media training for each and every player in the league.

''Clubs should work out each individual's preferences and their learning skills and go one to one. At the moment it is a multimillion-dollar business and yet we leave people to the mercy of their own predispositions. They should use actual media incidents as scenario training,'' he said.

''What happened to Josh is desperately, desperately sad. It's a bit like Saving Private Ryan. Now, do you go out and save them or do you go out and use them as a representation of what not to do?''

NRL's senior welfare and education manager Paul Heptonstall, who is meeting Dugan on Tuesday, said the NRL was wholeheartedly invested in the welfare of players and encouraged everyone to find a balance between their social media persona, the professional persona and all the other pillars in their lives.

Mr Heptonstall said the aim of social media training was to ensure players understood the legal ramifications and the personal and professional brand protection issues associated with social media.

He said prohibiting players from social media would exacerbate problems and cause more of a media circus later on.

He believes one of the methods which is showing positive results in social media training is theatre sports - getting players to re-enact real-life scenarios and show them the consequences immediate social media actions and reactions can have.

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