LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- They're both right, of course. Rick Pitino doesn't allow his players to Tweet or post on Facebook during the season, and has given his reasons. John Calipari allows it, and provides his players guidance on social media, and has his reasons.
It's a question of preference or choice. But because they have opposing views, and because they are coaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, they will naturally be seen as opposing each other. Maybe they are. But I don't think so.
This discussion all started -- again -- on Monday. Rick Pitino was discussing the first black players to play at the University of Louisville, and was talking about where he grew up. Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal then said he'd talked to Russ Smith, who told him something that's common in social media is that fans will make comments that are racial in nature. He asked Pitino if he'd talked to his players at all about handling that.
Pitino responded, basically, that he's told his players not to look at it. He said, "I think anybody that reads social media that's in sports is not all there. I'm being very serious when I say that. It's a form of cowardice. It's anonymous people."
Full disclosure, again, I co-wrote a book with Pitino that features an entire chapter on this very subject. Pitino's point is, and always has been, that players during the season should not subject themselves to the distraction of social media. If someone is saying racial things to you on social media, why look at it? Why should that have any meaning to you whatsoever? That's his point.
Gorgui Dieng once told me, "If someone Tweets to me that I'm a bad player, I'm stupid if I read that and believe it or let it bother me. Who is this person? I don't even know them. Did they ever play basketball? Did they ever coach? What do they know? The only one I should care about is my coach. If I listen to someone on Twitter or on the street and let it bother me, then I'm stupid. I don't want to be stupid."
To sum up Pitino's argument, here are four paragraphs from his book, "The One-Day Contract:"
(Nicholas) Carr says in his book (The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains), 'The Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. We focus intensively on the medium itself, on the flickering screen, but we're distracted by the medium's rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli." In an interview with Carr, Michael Merzenich said that as we multitask online, 'We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap.'
That's a good description of what we find. For every person who enjoys reading compliments or validation through social media, there is one who sees comments online and comes away feeling irritated or negative. Read the wrong thing someone has said and it can eat at you all day -- and who has time to devote the mental and emotional energy to that? Realize the cost to yourself of some of these distractions.
Google, in fact, counts on us becoming distracted from our original web searches by clicking on other subjects. That's how it makes money. It's in the distraction business. 'The more we use the web," Carr says, 'the more we train our brains to be distracted.'
Add the effect of this on young people, who are exposed to this type of stimulus at an early age and often know nothing else, and you have a crisis of critical thinking ability -- or the lack of it. David Levy, a professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, calls it "popcorn brain." We get so used to the constant popping of new information online that our minds are less fit for life in the real world, where the information "pops" more slowly.
This is Pitino's message. And he also mentions that young people who are used to communicating through social media are losing the ability to communicate in person. They don't look you in the eye. You can't even talk to them on the phone. Pitino said, "Guys will text, 'Luv u coach,' which we never would have said when I was a player. They're so expressive in that way. But you sit them across the desk from you, and they don't know how to speak. They don't even like talking on the phone. You need to text them to get them later on the phone. It's affecting the way young people think and interact."
It's hard to argue with these studies and results. Pitino makes a good point.
It's also hard to argue with reality. That's where Calipari comes in. He's a realist. Here is Calipari's message, as he gave it to ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike today:
First of all, this is no disrespect to the coaches you mentioned (Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino) I respect them all. But they know nothing about social media. Nothing. They don't do it. They feel it's another job. What I'm trying to tell our players, and we train them, we bring in professional people, we talk about it, we oversee them, we watch what they put out, if they put out something dumb we talk to them and tell them, 'Why? Why would you do that?' We also tell them if you're into reading the responses, don't go on Twitter. Twitter is an opportunity. Facebook is an opportunity. To say what you feel, to try to pick people up, to try to be positive, to try to add something to society, to try to let people see you transparently.
You cannot be defined, if you're on social media, by somebody else. You will define yourself and if it's negative that's your fault. But here's who you are. And if you're negative, it'll come through. In five years of being on Twitter and Facebook, what are you going to lie for five straight years? You are who you are. But we're trying to tell those kids, hey, you build your brand, or you break your brand down, you are who you are through social media. I always say, I'm not going to hold my team back from their Facebook, but I'm going to teach them, how do you use it for a positive. And I don't read one response on Twitter or Facebook. I don't read one. So if you come back -- there are a lot of bullies and haters on there, I don't read them. I don't see them. I give out information. I'm transparent to our fans. I tell them how I'm feeling. I talk about the last couple of practices. There are things I want my players to read that I'll put out. I also have things that we do that only go to our players, that I put out that I want them to see and hear. Videos and different things. Social media, for anyone to say don't do it, it's crazy, I don't know what you're talking about. I go home, I've got a 17-year-old son, he doesn't watch TV he's on the computer all day. He watches TV on the computer!
He makes good points. If social media are a part of life, aren't we doing a greater service to students by teaching them? It's worth debate. I expect we'll see more of it in his new book, due out this spring. It should be interesting reading.
But one thing is hard to argue with. And even Calipari acknowledged it. He has said, it's difficult for him to get "the chatter" out of his players' heads. He has complained that it's a challenge for his players to listen to his voice above the others.
He has said his team is the "most over-scrutinized" in the history of the game. And yes, there's a little more news media than there was a decade ago, but the big difference, one fan after another tells me, is Twitter -- that players are getting it on Twitter round-the-clock.
Even U of L's players, who aren't allowed to post on Facebook or Twitter during the season, still can get on and read. Pitino knows they do. It bothers him. If Chris Jones reads Facebook for an hour a day, would he not be better off working on defense for that hour, or working on schoolwork?
He said this to me. "If a player on your favorite team were Tweeting on the bench during a game, how would you feel? The NBA has even fined players for that. But people Tweet during work every day. They're on Facebook all day. They don't see the discrepancy in that."
Calipari says that society should embrace the discrepancy. That social media is part of life and people should learn how to manage it and use it.
Unlike most sports columns, this one is not going to declare a winner at the end. It's an interesting debate. I understand what both are saying. I don't have a good answer. It's not practical for most people to ignore social media altogether. But Calipari's argument that people are their true selves on social media is laughable. Just ask Manti Te'o. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
The answer is probably somewhere on Google. Or in a library.