Both ESPN and Inside Higher Ed are reporting that the University of Colorado just ended the blog of one of its football players that was to highlight his experience throughout the season (after a single post, no less). As ESPN describes, the university was not happy about student Ben Burney speaking openly about college life:
“His introduction began with a description of him waking early Thursday morning next to a woman in his bed, and graduated to mention his libido as he commented that reporting day for players is actually viewed as the end of fun times and freedom.”
While one can understand where UC is coming from, would it really have been such a problem to let the blog speak candidly? After all – it’s these sorts of authentic details about that would make the blog interesting and credible. No one wants to read a sanitized list of talking points from the university PR department.
A football player is having sex and bragging about it? Oh my stars and garters – say it ain’t so! Pretending that college students don’t have sex or engage in irresponsible behavior like drinking gets us nowhere. Better to tackle the realities head-on.
I would have recommended that the university to treat the blog like they would an English class from the outset; take the position of defending academic freedom and the student’s right to express himself. Any resulting controversies resulting from a candid portrayal could be handled in a healthy and transparent way:
- If the blogger publishes a sexist and chauvanistic view of women…
…respond to it. Let the college community comment. Hold forums and discussions about the damaging impact of this sort of worldview.
- If the blogger is engaging in risky sexual behavior…
…respond to it. Bring in experts and make comprehensive sex education programs available to students. Discuss sexual assault crime statistics on campus. Use it as an opportunity to promote the college’s counseling resources to students who are likely grappling with the myriad consequences of being sexually-active.
- If the blogger presents an unflattering picture of college athletics…
…respond to it. Use the feedback to drive policy changes at the university if necessary. Let this be a way to bridge the gap between the faculty and the athletic programs through open conversation.
- If the blogger is serving as a poor role model to young people…
…respond to it. Have a conversation about why we make athletes into role models in the first place. Engage the blogger and the community about the influences on their lives.
Without a blog, Burney’s behavior is still visible to the community (and likely even to the online community if anyone in his social circle blogs or tweets about his extracurricular activities). With a blog sanctioned by the university, however, the school has a chance to divorce itself from that behavior or to approach it in a more healthy context (an option far less available to UC if the discussion is happening outside of their sphere of control).