Few groups are more closely scrutinized than professional football players, as witnessed by the many off-field PR blow ups in recent years.
Partially in response, the NFL now conducts extremely thorough Social Media Background Checks on potential college football players hoping to make the cut into the pros.
One NFL analyst recently remarked that the background check can easily eliminate a player before he even gets on the field. NFL scouts and team PR types now need to do much more than watch a few plays from the sidelines. Their work extends into social-media investigations including upbringing, family problems, online group memberships, drinking, drug use, affiliation with the wrong people, sexual behaviors, and anything that could look bad. The overall objective is to minimize the negative PR that could result from bad off-field behaviors. And college days sometimes leave a troubled social media trail through pictures and postings of parties, drinking, drugs, guns and more.
The alleged behaviors need not be illegal in order to cause a penalty flag among NFL officials. “Embarrassment to the team” is often their biggest concern. “He earned us $5 million on the field, and then lost us $10 million off the field” may be the bottom line.
For example (and this is an actual test) an aspiring player – or even an existing star – may get messaged through social media channels by attractive groupies looking to friend-up and hook-up. But the groupies are not real – they are tests put to the players by social media investigators.
Or consider the case of Colt Lyerla, an Oregon favorite and nationally known tight-end who, surprisingly, went undrafted in 2014. Some say he was good enough at catching passes, but the disinterest may have been caused by his March 2013 Tweet linking to a Sandy Hook school shootings conspiracy video on youtube.