The Big, Scary Thesis

As a freshman, the Honors College thesis was a semi-intimidating, rather mysterious project that we didn’t have to think about for three years.

Now as a senior, the Honors College thesis is a wildly intimidating, still mysterious project that IS DUE IN EIGHT MONTHS. So start researching.

Gratuitous Duck photo: backup QB Bryan Bennett, who shined vs. Arizona State after taking over for the injured Darron Thomas. Bennett does tweet though: @BryanBennett3.

Dramatic? A little. But still true. As a student in the UO’s Clark Honors College, one of my graduation requirements is to write an undergraduate thesis on some topic related to my major. Since I graduate this spring, I’m in the Thesis Prospectus class this term, which is designed to help us narrow our focus and start the research process.

I’m a public relations major who l-o-v-e-s social media and sports, so combining the two for my thesis seemed natural. That’s how I arrived at my topic: a look at the development of social media policies in college athletic departments and their implications for college athletes’ free-speech rights.

Even the casual fan can’t help but notice that social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in the sports world. Hardly a day goes by when ESPN doesn’t quote an athlete tweet instead of a prepared statement, and fans clamor for re-tweets and mentions from sports stars.

However, there’s bound to be trouble when you let college athletes (students aren’t always known for having the greatest judgment; for example, I’m writing this at 1 a.m. and ate a massive Voodoo doughnut an hour ago) freely use a social platform that allows them to say anything they want in under 140 characters.

More and more schools are implementing social media policies (or “responsible use guidelines”) for their athletes. But do athletes, even though they’re on scholarship and publicly represent the school, deserve to face such restrictions? A 4.0-student who receives a full academic scholarship and participates in, say, the debate team, can tweet anything he or she wants. Are athletes facing unfair treatment?

No, I’m not going to be standing on the street corner, crusading for athletes’ First Amendment rights. But the question fascinates me, especially as a greater number of schools place restrictions on athletes’ social media use.

My prospectus is still in its early stages, but tomorrow I present it for my class and make my first big leap into thesis-dom. It’s still early in the process, and I’m uncovering new research and new angles every step of the way.

How does the intersection of sports and social media interest you? If you have any thoughts or suggestions for my process, or any random thoughts at all, I’d love to hear them! (And in the off-chance that you’re a college sports reporter who’s covered social media-related topics…can I interview you?)

As scary as the thesis is, being an Honors College student is worth it, if only for this photo. When GameDay was in Eugene last week, their production crew used rooms in the Honors College building; as a "thank you" for letting them take over our space, they gave us set tours. This is me in Chris Fowler's usual spot.

6 thoughts on “The Big, Scary Thesis

  1. krhodey says:

    What a rockin’ topic. Combining your two loves is really smart. It will be a labor of love for you. Blessings as you begin brainstorming and researching!!

  2. Rachel Starr says:

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this (it’s not exactly new news) but Steve Spurrier from South Carolina has banned Twitter during the football season. He claims that his players have been posting inappropriate, vulgar or “stupid” tweets. I don’t necessarily think that banning Twitter should be allowed. Athlete’s are part of an organization. Why not just create a social media policy like many businesses have? That way they can still Tweet, but not be Tweeting content deemed inappropriate by their organization. There are less extreme ways around these sort of situations.

    • Paige Landsem says:

      Rachel, I actually didn’t know about this! Thanks for letting me know. It is a touchy subject. I can see it both ways: on one hand, athletes are still students who should possess some basic free speech rights. On the other, they’re high-profile representatives of the school who undergo more scrutiny than the average student.

      That’s an issue that will definitely come up as I write my thesis. Thanks for your comment and the link!

  3. Jordon Cloud says:

    Interesting topic. All last year I was in a language class with about 12 football players who were extremely rude throughout the year. I tweeted a couple of times about the issues that I was having with them in my class but I never really took it as far as I wanted to. I find it interesting that athletes are so idolized here at the UO even when they do things that get in the way of our education and often times even embarrass us publicly.

    I befriended several of them but never really got rid of my issues with having them in classes. The truth is that many of them could care less about school. I still wonder why I didn’t go further with my complaints against the athletes in class. There were so many stories that I wanted to share but in fear that they wouldn’t be acknowledged, I never posted my thoughts. It might be a good idea to touch on the topic of the athletes at the UO being idolized so heavily by students and fans on social media. Good luck!

    • Paige Landsem says:


      That’s interesting you say that; I’ve never had a class with a super-high-profile Oregon athlete, but I have experienced some “attitude” from other athletes with whom I’ve had class. It’s easy to see why they’d have a sense of entitlement, and it can be frustrating for “regular” students like you and me.

      I think that is at the heart of my topic – do players, even though they are more recognizable than the average student, deserve to have restrictions put on what they can say? It’s a slippery slope.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

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