Over two-plus decades, Reggie Roberts witnessed how the globalization of the digital revolution impacted the NFL
Reggie Roberts, right, with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
The bulk of Roberts' time was spent overseeing communications for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, and his duties included serving as the main spokesperson for the clubs and coordinating media and communications coverage. He adapted as communication tools shifted primarily from print publications to growing investments online and, most recently, via social media.
Athletes can transform themselves into brands, clubs can engage with fans in creative ways, and anyone can stream games in all corners of the world.
Those are among the pros. But the cons?
Well, Roberts has seen his share of self-inflicted issues and crises that affect individuals, clubs and, sometimes, the entire league.
“My job was to educate players on how to build their brand,” Roberts says, “not destroy it.”
But Roberts is also a father of two teenage boys, one of whom starts at the University of Tampa this fall, and he laments when young men damage their future with questionable pictures and 140-word bombs.
He recalls that his eldest son had a teammate on a suburban Atlanta AAU basketball team who was being recruited by several colleges, including ones in the SEC and ACC. But the young man received a picture of a barely-dressed, underaged girl, and he shared the photo in a group chat with friends. Ultimately, the underaged girl’s mother saw the photo and notified the school’s principal.
“Then the letter and phone calls stopped for him,” Roberts says. “That impacted me. Here is a kid who had a chance to possibly change the trajectory of his entire life. People had invested in him becoming a great basketball player, but no one showed him the little ways he could derail it all.”
Now owner of Double R Communications, Roberts often speaks at schools and to parent organizations about the benefits and pitfalls of social media.
Here are three tips Roberts has for parents:
Roberts recalls one mother telling him after a presentation he made in Orlando that she didn’t want to invade her daughter’s privacy. I said, “Ma’am, I respect you, but I think you’re wrong. She’s 16, and she isn’t at the age where one can process and make those decisions for themselves.” Roberts insists on parents knowing their children’s social media account usernames and passwords and also doing “spot checks” on their devices. Roberts says he points out posts or pictures to his sons that he thinks are inappropriate or push the limits of what is appropriate.
According to the Pew Research Center, seven in 10 teens use Facebook and half are on Instagram. Colleges and companies are well aware of how popular social media is among young people, so they check social media accounts of potential students and employees. “They want to make sure you don’t have posts that would embarrass them,” Roberts says. He points to the 10 students who recently had their academic scholarships to Harvard University rescinded after they posted offensive memes to an online chat group. Yuri Wright was one of the top-50 players in the 2012 football recruiting class, but colleges pulled scholarship offers because of sexually and racially charged Twitter posts. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has said social media is one of the top three things he checks. “Being the father of two teenage boys, (social media) keeps me up at night sometimes,” Roberts says.
Roberts says administrators have told him they do not have a problem with social media faux pas at their school or they do not have the funds to pay for his presentation. “But you can’t afford not to inform them,” Roberts says. “A lot of kids don’t know this.” Roberts references a saying from Herm Edwards, the former head coach of the New York Jets. “Read it and check it out, before you press send,” Roberts recalls. “Once you press send, it’s out there.” Roberts recalls speaking to student-athletes at an Atlanta-area college. When Roberts asked who wanted to play in the NFL, every student raised his hand. Roberts then informed them that NFL clubs routinely analyze a draft prospects social media accounts. “Would you have a post that would get you knocked off their board?” Half of the 80 players raised their hands. Roberts says students should only post something that they would be comfortable with their grandmother reading. “You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube once you press send,” Roberts says. And never — never, Roberts insists — blast anyone on social media. “That can come back to bite you,” he says. “If there’s a real issue, students should speak to their parents or counselors at school.”