In the midst of day one of SEC Media Days in Hoover, AL the most popular player being interviewed was 443.6 miles away in Gainesville, FL and it didn’t even involve the actual “media”.
No notebooks were needed. No microphones necessary. No fancy hotel or extravagant façade was built. It simply involved a hashtag (#askTeez), Twitter, Periscope, a personality and confidence that could fill a hotel twice the size of the Wynfrey Hotel.
While Marcus Maye, David Sharpe, Jarrad Davis, and Jim McElwain answered the typical questions and “talk abouts”, it was standout junior cornerback Jalen Tabor that had the most attention.
As many Florida fans know, Tabor isn’t one to hide his personality on the football field or social media. He is known to trash talk Tennessee, brag about his skill set, and not shy away from his opinion on personal, political, and societal beliefs.
The likely first round NFL draft pick next season answered a host of questions on Twitter (a number were deleted) and then answered nearly 17 minutes of questions on Periscope. Questions ranged from “how many picks will you have this year?” to “Who inspires you?” (answer: “me”) to “Will it be 12 in a row against the Vols?” (answer: “no doubt”) – ultimately, Tabor answered more than 100 questions that ranged all of the place with more than 5,000 different people watching his Periscope account.
Tabor was honest in his answers (“If I don’t win the Thorpe this year, I don’t consider it a good year”), showed his personality, engaged with fans, flashed his smile, and displayed a confidence few can carry after only two seasons.
Then he had a nearly six minute Periscope of the locker room and answered a few more questions that would likely be rated “R” for profanity, but that’s how locker rooms are. But I bet for most watching that is the first time they have ever seen a “live” locker room, which is full of joking, camaraderie, and playful banter.
And even though it was good fun to watch Tabor (and the locker room), it was an experiment – an experiment that turned out quite well.
And while Ohio State, Florida State, Clemson, and others are banning social media accounts for student athletes, Florida Gators Head Coach Jim McElwain is embracing it, and hell, even encouraging it.
McElwain, an avid Twitter user himself, doesn’t censor players on social media. He doesn’t require players to delete accounts or suspend them during the season. He gives them one option: a choice.
A choice to make decisions to say what you want (but, you better be able to back it up). A choice to build a brand. A choice to interact with fans. And a choice that may have consequences.
On Monday, McElwain said, “I’m not big on censoring, but what I’m into is big on education,” He continued, “I think the key here is the education piece, understanding you have a choice to use it to affect your brain in a positive way or sometimes maybe say whoop. But you don’t get any do-overs. That’s part of the education piece. I’m not here to censor our guys. I’m here to help them. I’m here to educate them.”
While there will likely be snafus along the way and players will likely tweet or post something that gets them called into McElwain’s office, McElwain is right – players have a choice to express themselves and be treated as adults with that first amendment right. Because at the end of the day, they have a voice that should be heard – a voice thousands listened to today.