Following each Blue Springs High School football game, coach Kelly Donohoe gathers his players in the locker room and discusses some of the key moments in that night’s contest and how they played a role in the final outcome.

But that is far from the most important item he addresses.

He concludes every post-game conversation with a message that can have life-changing consequences.

“Guys, don’t go out and do anything stupid,” said Donohoe, a Missouri Hall of Fame coach who has won four state championships and 210 games in a 19-year career.

“I want that to be the last thing they hear – ‘Don’t go out and do anything stupid.’ And over the years, the subject matter has changed,” Donohoe said. “Recently, social media is one of the things that we have to address. It’s funny how something that can be so positive can also be so negative. We’ve had players lose Division I scholarships – and other scholarships – because of some of their posts on social media.

“I don’t want a player to think that just because they have an offer on the table that it’s going to be there forever, because it’s not, especially if they say something offensive on social media.”

Donohoe said one of his players found that what he posted on social media proved costly.

“We had a player many years ago post some really negative things about (crosstown rival) Blue Springs South and it cost him a scholarship,” Donohoe said. “John Garrison (a former all-state offensive lineman at Blue Springs) was coaching at Nebraska and he called me and said one of our players – who Nebraska was really interested in – lost any chance for a scholarship because of his comments on social media.

“Once those comments are there, they’re there forever. They can delete them, but there is always someone who is going to have seen them, and they will come back to haunt that athlete.”

Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is a big advocate of social media responsibility.

“Read each tweet about 95 times before sending it,” he said, in a message that appeared on MaxPreps.com. “Look at every Instagram post about 95 times before you send it. A reputation takes years and years and years to build, and it takes one press of a button to ruin. So don't let that happen to you. Just be very smart about it.”

Keep it positive

Shaun Ross, a former Van Horn High School quarterback and Class 4 all-state selection last fall, echoes those comments.

“Be smart, just be smart,” said Ross, who earned a scholarship to Fort Hays State University, an NCAA Division II school in Hays, Kan. “I’d see a post by one of my teammates and think, ‘What are they thinking? Don’t they know everyone can see that, including college coaches and recruiters?’

“Their lives can change in the blink of an eye. A scholarship can be there one minute and gone the next.”

Because of his role as a leader on the Falcons, Ross felt confident in addressing issues like that with his teammates.

“I felt like it was my duty, something I had to do,” Ross said. “Recruiters and college coaches look at academics as No. 1 and I think right behind that they check a player’s social media posts.

“Just think, one bad post – one post where you’re not really thinking – can cost you a scholarship and change your life.”

One of Eastern Jackson County’s most prolific social media coaches is Ross’s football coach at Van Horn, William Harris, who uses Twitter and other social media platforms to send out a positive and inspiring message.

“I think because we deal with so many urban kids at Van Horn, we face some different challenges,” Harris said. “To me, social media is a necessary evil because you need it in recruiting.

“I need it because I want to let college coaches know about the great kids I work with and coach at Van Horn. But, I make a point of telling my kids to be careful – and to be smart.

“We try to monitor our players’ posts as much as possible, and we stress the importance of making smart decisions when it comes to social media. And we want them to know that there is no such thing as an anonymous post.

“They may be sitting at home, by themselves, and make a post and not really think about the consequences. Just because they are alone doesn’t mean that hundreds and hundreds of people won’t read it and respond to it.

“That’s why I keep all my posts positive. I want them to emulate me when it comes to social media.”

Dale Herl views social media from two points of view – one as the superintendent of the Independence School District and one as the father of a highly recruited football player, his son Dawson, a recent graduate of William Chrisman who has signed to play at Missouri Southern State University.

“Our coaches and activities directors at each high school in Independence address all social media issues, but we have still had issues that we have had to address,” Herl said. “We had an athlete lose a West Point appointment because of social media. Can you imagine, losing an appointment to a military academy because of something on social media?

“I know the importance of making all students aware of the consequences and my wife and I certainly did our best to make Dawson aware of what can happen if you make social media posts that are disrespectful.

“It’s really become one of the major issues we have to face and we are doing our best to make sure all students know the implications of their posts.”

Others affected

High school athletes, in search of college scholarships, are not the only ones who can be affected by social media.

Terin Humphrey, who trained at Great American Gymnastics Express (GAGE) in Blue Springs and who won a silver medal on the uneven bars and a team silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, became an athlete representative on the USA Gymnastics Athlete Council in 2009.

She was removed from that position after posting a meme on Facebook that stated, “What champions consider coaching is what the entitled consider abuse.”

She had served as a confidant for many of the more than 368 gymnasts – many of whom were minors – who were part of the abuse of coaches, trainers and doctors, including USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving time in prison for sexually abusing many gymnasts.

Humphrey then posted a statement on Facebook that included: “On May 3rd, 2019, USA Gymnastics new CEO informed me that I was not going to be asked to leave USA Gymnastics. On May 5th, I was asked to resign by USA Gymnastics leadership even though my position was an elected position by the Athletes Council, not USA Gymnastics. This happened, ostensibly, because of a Facebook post on my personal page. Finally on May 20th, the Athletes Council decided to remove me from the position because of the pressure being placed upon them by USA Gymnastics.”

Her life has forever changed.

Staying vigilant

Easton Seib, The Examiner’s 2018 Softball Player of the Year who earned a scholarship to Valparaiso University, grimaces when asked about social media and the effect it can have on college recruits.

“It can be so dangerous,” said Seib, who led Blue Springs South to its first-ever state softball championship in 2018. “You tweet something and it can come back and haunt you.

“College coaches and recruiters look at everything when they are recruiting an athlete – grades, school activities and social media posts. (Blue Springs South Activities director) Tim Michael meets with us every year to address social media posts and how they can affect our lives and believe me, we listen.”

However, Seib believes there is a place for social media and credits one of her former teammates for making Twitter fun and enjoyable.

“Elle Smith, who played centerfield for us last season, is a freshman who is always posting funny little videos and comments that make me laugh,” Seib said. “That’s the positive side of social media.

“And it helps the recruiting process that coaches can learn so much about a recruit through social media. But it is also scary to think that one negative social media post can ruin your life in so many different ways.”

Kansas State University assistant football coach Van Malone is up front and honest with Wildcat recruits.

He tweeted: “We have a team of people who monitor what recruits are putting on social media. Watch what you tweet and retweet.”

That tweet was accompanied by a recruit – whose name was blocked from view – and his tweets involving foul language and inappropriate videos.

Jason Smith, a former college coach and athlete who is now the director of recruiting for the Next College Student Athlete team, stated in a column in USA Today that “85 percent of the college coaches surveyed by Cornerstone Reputation, search athlete profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.”

“I think it all boils down to being smart,” said Fort Osage School District Superintendent Jason Snodgrass, who was a prep coach before becoming an administrator.

“We talk to our athletes – really, all our students – about being aware of the consequences of your posts on social media. To my knowledge, we have never had an incident where one of our athletes has lost a scholarship because of a social media post.

“A lot of it has to do with respect, and that is something we have always stressed. Be aware of your posts. Read them before sending them out. If they can be hurtful, to you or someone else, don’t send it.”