Iowa AD: Social Web sites a cause for concern
By Eric Page | Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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Gary Barta is familiar with the Facebook.com phenomenon.
And he has seen some of the disturbing images some users of the social Web site choose to post on their personal pages.
But the pictures Iowa’s director of athletics had land on his desk this week were particularly troubling. In them, four members of the Hawkeyes football team are shown flaunting empty alcohol bottles, flashing apparent gang signs and handling large sums of cash.
All of the players are under 21.
Two of them — receivers Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman — were arrested Sunday and charged with using stolen credit cards to make more than $2,000 in purchases. A third — reserve quarterback Arvell Nelson — posted bond on a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear at a court date stemming from a July 2 citation for driving with a suspended license.
The fourth, receiver James Cleveland, has not been implicated in any crimes, but the University of Iowa police are continuing the investigation into the credit card thefts.
The photos were posted on the personal sites of Douglas and Bowman but since have been removed.
Barta has taken a preemptive stance on combating the explosion of social Web sites such as Facebook, which have eroded the buffer zone that once existed between college athletes and the public.
“It’s a concern nationally,” Barta said Tuesday. “The millions of people who have created these Web sites and some of the photos and words and other things that are shared. It’s a national phenomenon, not just something with student-athletes at the University of Iowa.
“It’s something we should all be concerned about. And it’s something, at Iowa, that we’re very concerned about, and we’re spending a lot of time educating our student-athletes on it.”
The vast majority of Iowa football players have pages on Facebook, and many accept friend requests from people with whom they are not necessarily friends. That means virtually anyone can gain access to their photo galleries and message boards and make direct contact with the student-athletes.
Last year, Barta brought in an expert in the field to try to explain the dangers that come along with owning a personal site. And Barta said the athletic department tries to convey the importance of athletes conducting themselves on their sites as they would in public while representing the school, the team and the state of Iowa.
The eye of the university can only go so far, though. And it certainly can’t stretch over thousands of photos on hundreds of Web sites.
“We don’t currently assign someone to search everyone’s Web site, nor do we assign someone to go to every bar on every Friday and Saturday night, nor do we assign someone to follow around our student-athletes to make sure they’re behaving or acting appropriately. That’s not practical,” Barta said.
“You can’t legislate morality. … We tell our student athletes, ‘You’re accountable for your behavior, whether it’s in the library, in your hometown in a bar or on one of the social networks like Facebook.’ ”
Douglas, Iowa’s leader in receptions last season, and Bowman have been suspended indefinitely from the football team under Category I of Iowa’s student-athlete code of conduct for their alleged roles in the credit card theft, which is a Class D felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail and $7,500 in fines. The Detroit natives, two of only three true freshmen to play for the Hawkeyes last season, are scheduled to appear in Johnson County Court on Sept. 6.
It is possible federal investigators would get involved in the credit card theft investigation if requested by Johnson County officials. If convicted in a federal court, Douglas and Bowman would face up to 10 years in jail and $250,000 in fines. Johnson County officials have not indicated if they have requested federal assistance.
Nelson, a second-year freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, who was listed as the second-string quarterback when the team opened practice Aug. 6, posted a $545 bond at Johnson County Jail on Tuesday afternoon. He has not been implicated in the credit card theft, but the investigation is ongoing, and it’s unclear at this time if other players were involved, Lt. Peter Berkson of the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety said Monday.
Barta would not speculate on the outcome of the investigation but said the athletic department and football coaching staff are “very concerned.”
“I can’t speculate as to what might happen. I can only react to things that have happened,” he said. “Because there is an active investigation, I’m really not able to comment on anything more right now.”
Coach Kirk Ferentz was not available for comment. Neither were Douglas, Bowman, Nelson or Cleveland.
Barta and Ferentz are expected to hold a news conference later this week.
Eric Page can be contacted at (563) 383-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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