Twice in the last week, my drive home has been punctuated by radio analyst Chris Spielman offering his thoughts on Ohio State players taking their personalities into cyberspace.
Specifically, the social networking websites we all know as Facebook and MySpace. Thankfully for those who follow this stuff, it appears that members of the football team have thus far restrained themselves from contributing to Twitter.
But first up for Spielman was the MySpace page of Jaamal Berry, a potential future Buckeye who has bigger things to worry about than how many friends he has on the network. Adorning Berry's page were pictures of guns and money, forcing Speilman to question whether OSU would want a player who would represent himself in such a way.
Next came current offensive lineman Justin Boren, who apparently had photos of himself and others driving a golf cart presumably while drunk. Those were then followed up by photos of them urinating on a condo.
So is this a big deal? In the case of Berry, not even a little bit. In the case of Boren, not really.
It is unfortunate when people who do not fully grasp the peculiarities of certain websites take it upon themselves to hold court on the subject. In Berry's case, the photos of guns and money were simulated ones that go along with playing a game on MySpace titled "Mobsters." It's a game where users can recruit others to join their own personal mafia and battle against others.
How harmless is it? I have a friend in the suburbs who delivers mail for a living. He's still recruiting me, trying to get me to join his mob. Playing this game on MySpace is about half as harmful as an hour-long session of Grand Theft Auto.
I think his arrest is cause for more concern than his membership in an online game.
In the case of Boren, whatever pictures were up that created the controversy have apparently already been removed.
There is a simple solution to situations like this. If you set your profile to private on either on these sites, the only people who can view your information are people you specifically authorize. That keeps embarrassing pictures of yourself away from the prying eyes of parents, employers and, yes, the media.
It's fair to wonder why these athletes are putting photos like these up for anyone to see, or even why they are committing actions that could result in undesirable attention for themselves. There is just one thing to keep in mind throughout all of this: these are college kids we are talking about here.
Raise your hand if you didn't do something stupid in college that you know would look bad but yet secretly left you at least somewhat proud of your actions. Mr. Tressel, you are kindly excused – although I suspect you once knew how to cut loose as well.
Having problems with players posting inappropriate pictures is nothing new at OSU. I wrote a column on this same topic back in April, 2006 and noted that there were photos of Rory Nicol and Jon Skinner with 40-ounce beers taped to their hands. Both of them were still shy of their 21st birthday, and upon publication of my column said photos were promptly removed.
Prior to the 2007 season, Tressel told me that the school does monitor the webpages for its athletes and added that the players are encouraged to realize that they are representing more than just themselves when they head into cyberspace.
"The only thing we say is that whether we like it or not, we represent more than just us," he said. "We're not just one face on Facebook or one person on the campus. People know who we are. That being said, we have to make sure we represent the group properly."
Far from everything posted online is negative, however. Two seasons ago, I learned that OSU captain Dionte Johnson was starting his own charity organization through information on his Facebook profile. Former walk-on Tyson Gentry has told me that the amount of support he has received via the site has been amazing. Just because a player posts a questionable picture of himself on his page does not mean the kid is suddenly not good enough to be called a Buckeye, a Wolverine or a Bulldog.
So before we condemn these kids for being thugs, gangsters and no-good alcoholics, let's take a step back for a second and consider our actions. No college kid is going to stay in his room 24 hours a day and emerge only for practice and game time.
If he did, would you want him on your football team?