Sports teams confront fallout from Manti Te’o episode

January 23, 2013

The Manti Te’o episode is forcing professional sports teams to decide what kinds of directives, if any, to issue to players about use of social media.

An official in one NFL front office said Wednesday the Te’o story underscores that teams must warn their players to be wary of all their off-field interactions, on the Internet as well as face to face, and involve the league’s security staff quickly when problems arise.

“You tell your guys to be careful about their associations, and you don’t hesitate to go to NFL security if there’s a problem,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by his team to address the issue publicly.

According to a report Wednesday on NFL.com, the Washington Redskins warned their players in December about interacting via social media with a woman who attempted to contact players using a pseudonym and fake photographs. A person familiar with the case confirmed the report.

The story said that several Redskins players attempted to arrange meetings with the woman and the NFL’s security staff conducted an investigation. No players were exploited or threatened and the woman never sought money or other benefits, according to the report.

“I think it was all about attention,” Phillip Daniels, the Redskins’ director of player development, told the league’s Web site. “I don’t think it was any of the other stuff. It was just about being able to talk to them, pretending to be someone they aren’t. It was never a situation where guys were giving money or anything like that.”

The Redskins declined to comment on the NFL.com report and refused to make Daniels available for an interview. Daniels did not return telephone messages.

According to the report, Daniels warned players to avoid the woman on Twitter and Instagram. The woman used pictures of an adult entertainer, the report said.

According to a league official, incoming NFL players are given warnings at the league’s annual rookie symposium about social media pitfalls. The topic is covered during breakout groups on how players should conduct themselves in a professional manner, the official said.

The NFL’s security staff makes annual presentations to players that include information about safeguarding themselves against online fraud and identity theft. The league’s player engagement staff distributes social media tips and guidelines to players as well. It was not clear Wednesday, however, whether additional warnings tailored specifically to the Te’o case would be added to the prescribed measures distributed to players by the NFL.

A person familiar with the NFL Players Association’s planning said it is unlikely that the Te’o episode will have an effect on the directives the union provides players.

“We tell guys all the time to be careful about who they interact with,” the person said. “This falls under that umbrella.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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