Camera phones, Internet bring athletes unwanted attention

Until recently, star college athletes had the best of both worlds — fame and adulation on campus, but with a certain level of privacy that respected their unpaid student status. However, with today’s camera-enabled mobile phones and Internet social networking, all that has changed.

Now, fans revel at taking pictures that can cause the athlete embarrassment when posted on the Web. University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has had four or five instances where female fans attempted to disrobe when posing for pictures with him. Most of the time, he “dives” out of the picture.

Compromising photos and videos of college athletes often turn up on the Internet, threatening the squeaky clean image such athletes must maintain. Typically, they start with a picture or video taken on a mobile phone, which is uploaded to a social networking site. From there, the mainstream media picks it up.

For college players, who are not paid the significant salaries of professional athletes, the intrusion of privacy is a major limiting factor in college life. Athletic departments now monitor social networking Web sites, checking on the life of their players.

Some college parties try to keep embarrassing or illegal moments off the Internet by collecting cell phones at the door. But even then, the athlete must be on guard because some fans will try to trick them into appearing in compromising photos.

Star players such as Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy are highly recognizable players and receive intense national scrutiny.

McCoy said he has been videotaped in restaurants and called the police when a man was screaming outside his apartment in the middle of the night. Bradford, who has been sidelined recently with a shoulder sprain, has had contentious encounters with professional autograph seekers, who want to sell his signature on eBay. Tebow said he cannot go on a date because pictures would be on the Internet in 10 minutes.

All of the athletes are recorded on video while walking to classes and have to be careful when people ask them to pose for a picture. That person could be a known drug dealer, prostitute or gambler. Such pictures can cause huge problems for players who cannot accept any gifts or preferential treatment under the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

A professor at one of the colleges noted that mobile technology and the Internet have erased the boundaries between public and private life. “It’s an enormous jump,” the professor said. “It’s not just ESPN or FOX cameras, but it’s everyone with a cell phone.”