Believing that innovation and coverage of college recruiting had stagnated after the acquisitions of Scout and Rivals, Shannon Terry opted to launch 24/7 sports as an upstart challenger within the online recruiting subscription space. Terry, who took Rivals from bankruptcy to a 9 figure exit with Yahoo, reassembled a lot of the talent that was key to Rivals's success spanning technology, editorial, and business management. I'm guessing it wasn't too hard to approach Rivals employees as 24/7's offices were in the same building as the Rivals headquarters.
Two years later, 24/7 has disrupted the industry and carved out a sizable audience with its network of sites, but the jury remains out on if this niche can support 3 competing networks and which one would fall if there wasn't room.
Among the many areas of differentiation to Scout and Rivals was a surprising lack of censorship in the wildly popular forums across the network. Generally speaking though on the sites I visit that are affiliated with 24/7, the discourse remains pretty clean.
Unfortunately, the network's signature national message board, The Blue Board, found racist and homophobic remarks so commonplace that posters decided to start a petition calling for the end of these hateful comments. The petition reads:
We, the undersigned, represent a sizeable contingent of the members of this site. Over the past year (months/weeks?), it has come to our collective attention that the flagship board of 247, the "Blue Board", has tolerated and continues to tolerate racist and homophobic language. We find this to be unacceptable. As paying members, frequent visitors and poster that are considering subscribing, we feel that we should have a voice in how our community is run.
The Blue Board is the "face" of 247, and it reflects on our individual team sites as well. This site is dedicated largely to college football recruiting; that is, to the evaluation of the football talents of 16 and 17 year old kids. There is little doubt in our mind that those same 16 and 17 year old kids do read the posts on our team sites and it stands to reason that they're also reading the Blue Board.
With this in mind, we do not feel that racist and homophobic language is professional, and conveys to non-members that this is a second-rate site. Like it or not, recruits and coaches read these sites and use them to form opinions about fanbases. Our fanbases do not wish to be associated with bigotry and racism.
We believe 247Sports can and will be the most successful college recruiting site out there. We also believe that to achieve that stature, the site must be as inviting to outsiders as possible, and allow for a diverse community of posters. Allowing racist and homophobic comments brings nothing positive to the 247 community and serves only to push possible new members away.
Please take these words to heart and end the racist and homophobic dialogue on the Blue Board.
Very truly yours,
You can probably predict what unfolded from there. A melting pot of fans from all over the country yipped at each other and argued free speech vs. hate speech, the wussification of America, and of course the values of liberals vs conservatives. I thought sports were supposed to bring us together?
When the smoke cleared and the topic was locked the end result was, 27 pages of opinions, 688 replies, 185 votes of approval, and 46 dissenting votes.
Shortly thereafter, a moderator to the site posted a new policy and you can infer a lack of enthusiasm for it although you could say the extra amount of moderation work may be the root of that. It reads:
"One off color joke = ban.
Substituting a letter in a curse word = ban
Ill be up all night because I have nothing at all to do tomorrow. No warnings, no explanations. You will be banned for a certain amount of time by our choosing. You want this place to be perfectly PC? You're about to get it. Have fun!"
The reaction to the new policy has been less than enthusiastic as the elimination of profanity was probably a bit more than members wanted.
It's an interesting dilemma as 24/7 seemed to purposely choose on a forum system where particular words were not automatically censored. Some enjoyed it and a lot of fuddy duddies did not. I had seen a handful of remarks over a couple of years that were homophobic or racist on some network sites but it never seemed to snowball into an epidemic.
Having never really spent time on the national board which is in question here, I can imagine the culture and discourse to a certain degree. With college football fandom being pretty muted here in the Bay Area, the handful of bars that have big college football viewing crowds usually serve as a melting pot of displaced fans from all across the country. With no real sense of community at these bars, you get a lot of frisky individuals looking to make a point or looking to get under someone's skin. At times it can turn into a game of Risk with different alumni groups battling in verbal and at times physical turf wars for real estate and television control.
The thing though is that in a bar, there are bouncers and you are not an anonymous internet personality. With anonymity and a sophomoric culture and discourse in play, unfortunately the right to uncensored posting regressed into something that more closely resembled a Comedy Central Roast than a place to discuss the recruitment of young athletes.
Why 24/7 didn't feel the need to be more proactive before the petition was started or in the days the petition was live is a bit baffling. In this day and age, being viewed as an insensitive company can be a PR killer and we've seen that now with Chick-Fil-A. It's a bit troubling that a grassroots movement was required to spur change on this front. Given 24/7 has to deal with a gambit of subscribers, advertisers, investors, and reporters all while courting media partners and potential exit partners, it seems a bit obtuse for them to let such a glaring issue run rampant on such a signature website of theirs. I reached out to Shannon Terry about the petition on Twitter and here was his response.
In the end it looks like the movement for reform has won although potentially with unintended consequences. Time will tell if 24/7 will create and or adopt new policies for network sites or if this was just a one-off situation.