Student-Athlete Receives Five-Game Ban for Criticizing State Association on Twitter

By Bryan Toporek — January 13, 2016 2 min read
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In this week’s edition of “Be careful what you tweet,” a high school student-athlete in Wisconsin received a five-game suspension after sending a tweet with a derogatory comment aimed at her state athletic association.

In response to a directive the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association issued over the holidays regarding the appropriateness of certain cheers, Hilbert High School athlete April Gehl tweeted the uncensored version of “EAT S--T WIAA” on Jan. 4.

Things escalated quickly from there.

Gehl’s mother, April, told the Appleton Post-Crescent that the state association sent a screenshot of Gehl’s tweet to her school’s athletic director, “with limited direction other than to ‘please take care of it.’” Two days later, the school handed her a five-game suspension.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gehl told the paper. “I was like, ‘Really? For tweeting my opinion?’ I thought it was ridiculous.”

According to the paper, Gehl is a three-sport athlete and is one of the top scorers on Hilbert’s girls’ basketball team. The Wolves lost their first game sans Gehl on Tuesday night, falling 51-30 against Oostburg High School, per the paper.

Todd Clark, the communications director for the state association, denied the claims of Gehl’s mother, telling the paper, “There was no language in our correspondence with the school that stated to ‘take care of this.’ That determination is for the member school to address. But these issues, like other sportsmanship issues brought to our attention, are shared with our members for their awareness.”

The school’s code of conduct for extracurricular participants does include “inappropriate language” among its list of “unbecoming” behaviors. For a first violation of the code of conduct, an athlete is to receive an automatic suspension from his or her team for 25 percent of their scheduled contests.

Gehl does not plan on appealing the suspension, according to the paper. Her mother expressed surprise about the state association obtaining her daughter’s tweet.

“I was thinking, ‘How did they get it so quickly?’ Sure, what she said wasn’t the right words and wasn’t the best thing to do. I wasn’t real upset with her because there have been a lot more worse things said on Facebook and Twitter to specific people. This to me was more of a general response to an organization per se, not an individual. So, sure, I’m upset with it. But we just have to deal with the consequences.”

The takeaway, as always? Student-athletes must be careful about anything they post publicly on social media. Otherwise, they’re opening the door for punishments, even harsh ones, if they’re found to be in violation of their school’s code of conduct.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.