Tyrone Leonardis, the 51st pick in last week’s 2015 AFL Draft led news coverage of the event for all the wrong reasons.
If you were re-doing the draft order based on media coverage in the days that followed, the Sydney Swans third-round selection would be No.1.
I couldn’t even tell you who the first pick was, but I know a lot about Leonardis. Why? His online footprint. Specifically, his personal Facebook profile page and the attention given to a couple of pages he ‘liked’ referencing former player and legend of the club he was drafted to, Adam Goodes.
“I’m extremely sorry for my actions and it is something that I have already learned a great deal from,” Leonardis said on the Swans website.
I have no doubt that Leonardis has sat through countless, ‘social media, cyber-safety, cyber-bullying, and online privacy’ themed talks, presentations and classes through his schooling years. Clearly the lessons didn’t sink in.
But this post isn’t to pile on one player, who clearly made a mistake and has acknowledged it, but to warn others who are behaving on social media like only their closest friends will ever see their posts and interactions, now or in the future.
It’s about bringing attention to the number one issue I am seeing with athletes, particularly young athletes, who are losing and/or seriously jeopardising opportunities due to their behaviour online. A total lack of awareness.
Almost as a justifier, it was mentioned in multiple reports that he had liked the pages back in February. Wow, waaaay back in February of 2015? That’s fine then. He couldn’t possibly have foreseen that he would be drafted into the AFL ten whole months ago. Come on.
Leonardis has fallen into the same trap that many athletes do. He should have been planning for the attention he’s now received and taken the appropriate action. If that meant being cautious about his interactions online, then it’s a small sacrifice to make along the path of achieving his life-long dream of playing AFL football.
We’ve seen other examples in recent times of athletes past social media posts comimg back to haunt them as their audience expands, drafted into teams alongside those they’ve publicly taunted online.
If you are a professional athlete, or dream of being one eventually, you have to expect the ‘spotlight’ of attention to shine on you sooner or later, and when it does, boy can it be bright. By not being prepared, a great day for this young man and his family has been soured.
“What’s the big deal?” That’s the tone of much of the commentary about this story as it’s spread online. “So you’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore?”
You most certainly are, but beware. You will be judged by it. Is that fair? Doesn’t matter. It’s happening.
I also wonder how many people spouting the ‘slow news day’ line about this story actually had a look at the Adam Goodes related pages in question. I did and it’s not pretty. The titles of the pages are very tame compared to the widely inappropriate and racist content shared once you click inside.
Something I share every time I speak to young athletes is this: ‘Liking’ something is seen as an endorsement. I agree with this content. That’s how it’s viewed. ‘I ‘like’ it, but I don’t really like it’ – that’s a tough sell.
We already know that monitoring of the social media accounts of players and potential recruits happens routinely in the US College system, is common-place in Australian recruitment and employment and is growing around the Australian sporting landscape.
Unfortunately, when it emerged that four AFL clubs this year hired former Victoria Police cyber expert Susan McLean to audit the social media accounts of potential draft picks, again, the commentary surrounding her efforts was that this was very much ‘over the top’.
Really? Have you heard of something called due diligence. These clubs are making some significant investments in these people. Sport is big business. The pressure is on all involved to win. Mess up and livelihoods are on the line.
Inappropriate online behaviour might not be the thing that stops a player from being drafted, employed, or recruited, but it will definitely shape an overall understanding of the player, moving them up, down, or evening tipping them off a recruiters draft board.
So to all prospective professional athletes, please be aware… the attention is coming. Don’t let something off-field, impact your dreams on-field.
Show some fore-sight, and think before you post, like, comment, share, retweet and tag.
My book ‘Social Media Scouting Report: Helping Aussie Athletes to Shine Online’ is available in January 2016. Learn more about it in the video below and visit www.hookmedia.com.au/book for more information.