For NFL Draft Prospects, a Good Online Reputation Could Be Worth Millions

What would you say if I told you that a few misguided tweets or a hacked Facebook account could cost you millions of dollars? As the 2010 NFL Draft approaches, this is the unfortunate reality that many hopeful draft prospects are facing.

In a very well-written and deeply researched article for FootballOutsiders.com, Mike Tanier makes the argument that NFL prospects have no privacy and that even the most minute indiscretions online could cost them a higher spot in the draft, meaning a lower salary and a lower chance of picking up endorsement deals.

Tanier even goes so far as to outline a few eerily plausible scenarios in which players could get burned, both through their own fault and through sabotage.

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Quoting from the article:

  • A star college quarterback sends a text message to five friends, bragging about his performance against a rival school. One of the friends forwards it to another set of friends, and one of them sends it to a few other people. The message finds its way to the blogosphere, then to ESPN. Soon football fans around the Internet are questioning the quarterback’s character and judgment for “distributing” inflammatory bulletin board material.
  • An angry crank with an axe to grind against a top defensive prospect searches the Internet for dirt on his prey. An ordinary Google search turns up not just public data, but postings from the defender’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. The crank establishes an anti-prospect Web site, mixing out-of-context postings with some facts and a sprinkle of innuendo. Maybe he goes a step further, impersonating the player on a phony Twitter account and tweeting vitriol to a confused public. The line between what’s real and what’s fabricated is blurred by reporters and draftniks, who inadvertently cite some of the false or highly distorted information. The prospect’s reputation is tarnished by a cyber-smear campaign. By the time he realizes it, the damage is already done.
  • A team hires an investigator to check out the top prospect in the draft, and the investigator isn’t above bending a few laws. In addition to standard background checks, he calls in a few favors with major Internet advertisers. He suddenly has access to the prospect’s “clickstream” information, a full record of the athlete’s browsing and chatting proclivities. Chat sessions at 3 a.m., just hours before kickoff? The general manager may find that interesting. Perhaps a GPS search of the player’s iPhone will provide other revelations …
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As a professional athlete, you must live in the public eye. This hard truth is even more apparent in the face of the Tiger Woods scandal. However, these draft prospects are not yet professionals. By and large, they’re just regular college kids who don’t understand the long-term ramifications of their actions online. What’s more, they have grown up in a world where the Internet and digital technology is omnipresent. The thought that something they share on Twitter could be used against them often does not occur until it is too late.

That’s not to say that NFL teams are wrong for using the Internet to research players. To the contrary, if they are going to invest millions of dollars into a player, they have a fiduciary duty to research his past behavior and ensure that he is not going to cause any problems for the team in the future. Just as a recruiter might do a Google search of a job candidate, an NFL scout is going to dig deep to find out whether a player will be a good fit. The difference is, if an NFL prospect is pegged as a bad apple, he’ll not only lose millions of dollars in the draft, but may have to carry that reputation with him for the rest of his career.

Here at the ReputationDefender Blog, we frequently talk about online reputation management for everyday professionals. Whether you’re a dentist, contractor, realtor, or lawyer, it is important to monitor your name online and take proactive measures to establish a strong professional brand. When you look at professional athletes, however, these issues become even more critical. Hopefully, players learn the importance of online reputation management before it’s too late.

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