Sports Law • Risk Management

Nude Golfers and Their Clubs

As the saying goes, “boys will be boys.” This phrase supports a level of predictability that young people, especially those in college, will experiment and test boundaries. Unfortunately, some college age students do not think about, or at least think they are immune to, potential consequences to their actions. Needless to say, the Bethany College men’s golf team must have been shocked at the consequences following a Facebook posting of their nude photo shoot posing with their sports equipment.

The Bethany golf team coach was put in an awkward position when he received an email of the photo. The coach, who is also the athletic director for the Christian faith-based college, felt ethically bound to impose a three tournament suspension on his entire nationally ranked scholarship team after becoming aware that all fifteen members of his golf team posed for the picture. A copy of the photo, which shows all members of the team standing side by side, nude, with golf clubs covering their genitals, can be viewed on The Wichita Eagle’s website from its article posted on August 24, 2011.

Knowing that “boys will be boys,” and knowing that young people post many indiscretions on Facebook or other forms of social media, what should coaches and athletic directors be expected to do? First, there needs to be an emphasis on education. Athletes need to know what type of behavior reflects poorly on an athletic team and that poor social choices made outside of their sport can still invoke a consequence within that sport. Moving forward, I am sure the Bethany College golf coach will be using this story to educate other athletes on the inappropriateness of posing nude, particularly when using their sporting equipment that ties them back to the school as college athletes. Education can also be used to communicate other policies on alcohol and drug usage.

Second, coaches and athletic departments should monitor the common social media sites used by student athletes. Catching something early may reduce further problems. Also, identifying a problem in one or two players may be a way to use an athlete as an example to other athletes of what behavior is unacceptable. Make a policy that coaches must have access to monitor athletes’ usage of social media sites. Monitoring helps ensure that athletes are complying with policies of the school or with the policies of any relevant collegiate or professional association.

Finally, coaches and athletic directors need to implement consequences when players misbehave. Policies need to be enforced or else those policies are futile. Although “boys will still be boys,” if they know that someone else was punished for a similar action, they might curtail their behavior. Perhaps more realistically, at least they won’t post their nude photos on Facebook because they know you will be watching.