Athletes: Does your online persona say what you want it to?

Written by Lexie on May 25, 2021

An athlete on social media

Some of the most beloved and recognized figures in our society are, without a doubt, professional athletes. Athletes represent a relatable kind of celebrity, proving that with passion and hard work anyone can be a success. With their masses of devoted fans, it is no wonder that professional athletes are some of the most followed accounts on social media.

As WNBA legend Candace Parker noted on the diversity of professional athletes at a recent SXSW conference, “we are a league of women, 80% women of color, different socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQ community. We are the majority of the minority in this country.”

When harnessed correctly, athletes can use their far-reaching social media presence and diverse perspective to have a grassroots impact on social causes that are important to them, going well beyond just sport. As social media cements itself in the way we interact with the world, how athletes present themselves online is becoming ever more important to consider.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool, especially for those in the public eye. For athletes at the professional, collegiate and even high school level, it is a way to create buzz, develop a brand, and connect with fans. It is no secret that there is huge money in the sporting industry, so having a large and engaged following can make an athlete a more valuable draft.

From a coach’s perspective, perhaps it is encouraged for an athlete to be seen and not heard, however there is a long history of athletes using their fame and reach to advocate for causes close to them. From Smith and Carlos raising a gloved-fist at the podium during the 1968 Summer Olympics in support of Black Civil Rights in America, to NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts as an act of protest against police brutality that led to the death of Eric Gardner in 2014, professional athletes have long-harnessed their public visibility. Now, the nature of social media bypasses the reliance on traditional media to disseminate these acts of protest, and athletes are able to freely post and talk about causes that matter to them.

During the SXSW 2021 conference, there was a talk titled “Amplifying Athlete Voices Off the Court.” This session focused on the way athletes used their platforms during 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic and the police brutality killings of Black citizens like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. On the social media impact of younger athletes that are on the up, Senior Vice President of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content Eric Jackson said that “authenticity is what I think makes the difference, because it provides the connective tissue with society that this generation really needs.”

On the importance of authenticity, Jackson mused on his own career that “I made a pact with myself years ago that I was going to educate... educate them about my culture, who I am… be the voice in the room that wasn’t afraid to speak up, and be my own authentic self wherever I went.” For athletes who are reflecting on their own voice, it is encouraging to know that a culture of inclusion and honesty is being cultivated within the NBA and hopefully across professional sports in general.

A warning for athletes

As a word of warning, athletes should be aware that anything posted on social media has the potential to be twisted to generate headlines. As history has unfortunately proven, when a public figure speaks up about injustices there is always going to be opposition. For athletes to fully harness the power of their voice on social media it is crucial to have a streamlined and professional online presence. This includes removing any content that could be damaging to their brand and distract from their positive impact, such as old Facebook, Instagram or Twitter posts. Social media clean up services such as can help protect against media outlets taking old posts out of context with the intention to discredit the positive voice of athletes.

We are in an exciting era of advocacy where the voices of athletes can be really heard. For athletes at any stage in their career, understanding the impact and responsibility of such a large audience is a crucial part of having a positive impact online and advocating for social change. By taking control of their social media presence, athletes can harness the power of their voice and work toward a more inclusive, engaged, and just society.

Whether you’re an athlete or not, cleaning up your social media is an important step in ensuring and protecting your future opportunities. Are you ready to get started?

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For coaches, athletic directors, and team leaders, we offer discounted pricing, on-boarding support, and webinars to support your athletes and teams with managing their online persona. Learn more here or email to see a demo.

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