One of the most infamous references in a team social media post in recent memory was intended as a reference to something completely different, according to the team. The post in question came from the UCF Knights during their 56-6 win over the Kent State Golden Flashes Thursday. It showed quarterback John Rhys Plumlee on the phone (presumably to the offensive coordinator) after a touchdown with the caption “Someone call the National Guard.”
That’s a terrible thing to post during a game against Kent State, the site of infamous 1970 shootings of Vietnam War protestors by the Ohio National Guard. Those shootings killed four people and wounded nine others, and bringing them up during the context of a football game seems like a bad idea, especially for an official team account. That post quickly took a lot of criticism, and it was eventually deleted, but was screengrabbed by The Athletic’s Zac Jackson:
On Sunday, though, UCF addressed this. And they claimed that the intent here was not to reference the 1970 shootings, but rather former Denver Broncos’ tight end, former Undisputed co-host, and current First Take contributor Shannon Sharpe pretending to call the president to bring in the National Guard during a 1996 Broncos’ win over the New England Patriots. (The Sharpe clip can be seen on YouTube here.) Here’s the Knights’ statement, via Jordan Mendoza of USA Today:
“An unfortunate post was made with the intention to reference the famous Shannon Sharpe sideline clip of him on the phone from a 1996 game against the New England Patriots,” the athletic department said. “As soon as our staff was made aware of the unintended reference to the unfortunate event that took place at Kent State in 1970, the post was removed. It was addressed with our staff immediately, and updated protocols have been put in place to avoid a situation like this in the future.
“Vice President and Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir has apologized to Kent State Director of Athletics Randale L. Richmond.”
UCF’s explanation that their social media person or team behind that post was unaware of the 1970 shootings is reasonably believable. While those shootings received a massive amount of news and cultural attention at and since that time (including 70-plus songs referencing them, perhaps most famously Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio”), they did take place 53 years ago, and not everyone studies history (or, even if they’ve seen a historical note at some time, remembers those specifics in a widely different context). It’s at least conceivable the thought process here really was about referencing Sharpe rather than the shootings. And if this had come against any other team, that reference might have landed the way the Knights say they intended.
But the “updated protocols” UCF references in their statement are important, and they bring up an issue around social media in general and one for teams and organizations in particular. Individuals’ social media posts can cause enough trouble, but bad posts from organizations are often seen as worse, as they’re representing that organization or brand and theoretically come with more consideration and review (but don’t always).
With in-game tweets in particular, there’s often a lighter tone, and some jokes or insults, and less time for review. And that all can work. But it would probably be at least worth it for teams’ social media staffs to have some discussions in advance of a particular opponent of “Is there anything we should make sure not to reference?” That would have saved the Knights a lot of grief here.