Colleges try to keep athletes off ‘catfish’ hook
by George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports
The photograph suddenly projected on the big screen was startling, and so was the question: “Do you recognize this woman?”
Elliott Mealer gasped. Not because he knew her – unlike some of his Michigan teammates, he hadn’t seen the woman before – but because, well, she was “really, really good-looking.” And because a moment later, she walked into the room.
“Some guys were shocked,” Mealer said. “It was like, ‘Oh, no!’ “
And if he still wasn’t sure what was going on, the object lesson quickly became apparent when she took the microphone and showed a series of photos pulled from the Facebook accounts of several players. They certainly didn’t fit the standard preferred by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who tells players, according to Mealer: “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.”
“Everybody was laughing if it wasn’t them (in the photographs),” Mealer recalled, “but I knew it wasn’t gonna happen anymore.”
This was August 2011, long before anyone had ever heard of Manti Teo’s nonexistent dead girlfriend, back when “catfishing” still meant dropping a line from a cane pole into the water. But the presentation on social media training – billed beforehand to Michigan’s players as a session that would teach them to build their personal brands for the future – revealed some players wriggling on the end of the hook.
In preparation for the presentation, an employee from 180 Communications who happened to be a “really, really good-looking” young woman asked members of the Michigan football team to “friend” her on Facebook. Several did, which didn’t surprise Don Yaeger, a former Sports Illustrated writer who is the firm’s president and who conducted the training session that day.
“They’re college men,” Yaeger said. “They look and they see an attractive woman from a state far, far away wanting to be their friend. A high percentage of them accept the request – so the first lesson we’re trying to teach them is, ‘Don’t accept.’ “
That lesson has been pressed home recently by the high-profile case of Te’o's online relationship with a person he believed to be a young woman named Lennay Kekua – but … [For more on How colleges try to keep athletes off the 'catfish' hook, click here.]