When Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o went to the scouting combine and later visited teams, including the Giants, he had plenty of explaining to do about being duped by an online hoax that erupted into a national controversy last season.
But as Lee Gordon will tell you, Te'o is not the only athlete to get caught up in an online scam, just the latest. It's Gordon's mission to warn athletes of the potential pitfalls of social media forums.
"In the NFL, you're a business, like Starbucks, Nike, Apple . . . you're a brand,'' said Gordon, director of corporate communications for Florida-based 180 Communications, which specializes in media training. "Every interview, media opportunity or social media post you do will either enhance your brand or bring you down. You have the power to influence people, little kids. So if you're posting pictures of machine guns or partying and if you're a car dealer who needs a player to represent your dealership, that's the last thing you want.''
Gordon counseled several draft-eligible players this year about how to engage properly in social media, although Te'o wasn't one of his clients. Te'o learned the hard way by being lured into establishing an online relationship with a fictitious woman who actually was a man posing as her.
"You can't go wrong quoting John Wooden,'' Gordon said of the late UCLA coach. "If you quote John Wooden on a daily basis, you'll be OK. Don't take sides on political events on Twitter or Facebook. You're going to offend somebody. As you're trying to prove yourself on the field, you have opportunities to set yourself up after your career.
"Make it be about positives. Focus on the fact that you're here to sell yourself. Once you get out of the league and you build that base, that's when [players] have formed their brand, and then can take it from there.''