The Slatest

College Football Coaches’ Bans on Players’ Tweeting Might Be Unconstitutional

Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher in April.

Stacy Revere/Getty

A number of college coaches—including such architects of national champions as Geno Auriemma (UConn basketball), Rick Pitino (Louisville basketball), and Jimbo Fisher (Florida State football)—prohibit their players from tweeting during their sports’ seasons. It’s not a rule that seems immediately ridiculous, given that college athletes work under a number of other behavior restrictions and that a number of young athletes have landed themselves in the soup by tweeting intemperately. But as ESPN’s Mina Kimes reports, these coaches’ rules may well violate a little something called the Bill of Rights:


… Because they work for the government- – all of the schools mentioned above are public universities – [coaches] could be liable for suppressing students’ free speech. “It’s a pretty clear-cut case,” says Eric D. Bentley, associate general counsel at the University of Houston. “You can’t argue that because they’re student-athletes they have no First Amendment rights.”  


But what about the other restrictions on behavior (enforced curfews, practice schedules, etc.) that athletes have long agreed to? “Unlike social media bans, those rules don’t invalidate their constitutional rights,” Kimes writes. In other words, perhaps, no one has a constitutional right to sleep in.

For a longer take on the issue, here’s a 2012 article from the law review published by … Florida State. “In order for these bans to be constitutional, the schools and coaches would have to show that the banned speech either has disrupted or would substantially disrupt school operations,” writes author J. Wes Gay after reviewing the relevant precedents, asserting reasonably that very few athletes’ tweets could be imagined to meet that standard.

Incidental fun fact: A Twitter account belonging to a University of Michigan football player once favorited a friend of mine’s tweet during halftime of a game.*

*Correction, Sept. 2, 2015: This post originally misstated that the football player in question had followed my friend’s account.