In his nearly three decades in sports journalism, ESPN’s John Anderson has seen high-profile careers ruined by poor choices, and during a recent visit to Ball State University, he urged students in the Sports Link program to think first and tweet later.

“I hear from coaches all the time that the name on the front of the jersey — your school — is far more important than the name on the back,” said Anderson, who was sharing his knowledge based on 17 years as an anchor with ESPN’s SportsCenter. “Now, when you graduate, that name on the back is all you have. If you aren’t careful on social media, one wrong post can ruin a career.

“Trying to repair a damaged reputation is very difficult in the era of social media. How many careers have been ruined by being in a photo with the wrong person or posting something that later turns out to be not so funny? The road is wide, but with social media, there is no shoulder. There is just an abyss into embarrassment.”

The warning about social media was felt by members of Sports Link, an Emmy Award-winning immersive learning program that provides students with opportunities to produce sports-related content on multiple platforms.

John Anderson talks to a student while other people are meeting in the background.

John Anderson (left) discusses career options with Torey Fox, ’15, who plans to graduate in May.

“I think what makes social media good is also what makes it bad,” said Torey Fox, ’15, who plans to graduate in May with a master’s degree in telecommunications. “Social’s ability to spread stories, information and entertainment quickly and in creative ways is an incredible experience for users like myself. As I’ve seen, some of the most talented people in our industry live and work in social media, and I’ve learned so much from them during my time at Ball State.

“To John’s point, I understand why social media can also be harmful. It can spread stories and information in all the wrong ways in mere seconds. Ultimately, it is on students like myself to use these platforms the right way and to make sure we don’t regret a single post or photo at any point. “

Sports journalism has evolved

Anderson spent two days on campus as part of the David Letterman Distinguished Professional Lecture and Workshop Series, which has brought prominent journalists and other guests to interact with students since 2009. The 52-year-old University of Missouri graduate said he was amazed by opportunities Ball State students have to work in sports production through Sports Link as well as the access to the technology-centered Unified Media Lab and Letterman Building.

“When I walked in, I knew I wasn’t at Missouri in the 1980s.”

Anderson also managed to keep the conversations loose as he spun tongue-in-cheek stories and other escapades about the sometimes frantic life of a SportsCenter anchor. However, his message turned serious when came to his commitment to journalism and language.

“I am a sports guy, but journalism is the key to what we do day in and day out — especially in this day and age,” Anderson said. “Sports is a convenient outlet, but it has to be journalism-based. Just because you know a lot of trivia, it doesn’t qualify you to be a sports journalist.”

Anderson an inspiration

Anderson’s visit to Sports Link also was part of an effort by the College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM) to expose students to top talent in communications and media.

Other recent visitors to Sports Link included Ben Houser and Martin Khodabakhshian, who brought a combined 34 years of producing at ESPN, 27 National Sports Emmy Awards and five Edward R. Murrow Awards. They visited last fall for a two-day workshop with students in feature storytelling and production.

The duo worked with students on ESPN features production techniques including concepts/shooting, writing/story structure and editing.

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“John was one of the first professionals from ESPN to connect with our program back in 2009,” said Chris Taylor, a telecommunications lecturer and senior director of digital sports production. “He’s not only been someone who has readily shared advice as we built our academic sequence in digital sports production but also someone who has inspired our students. Sports Link prides itself on being the ESPN of Ball State. John’s visit to campus to work with our students strengthens this.”

In one of his last sessions, Anderson provided career advice as he kept court at an oval table in Sports Link — similar to the one used by ESPN for its shows focusing on in-depth reporting.

“Interacting with John was incredibly valuable because it allowed us to directly connect our work to those in the real world,” said Fox, a native of Terre Haute, Indiana, who spent several years with Sports Link and interned at Turner Sports the last two summers. “John is one of the many professionals who have shared stories, ideas and tips that really validate what we do as students. It’s comforting and exciting to meet people like John, because they are quick to stress how they were once students like us and wish they had the same opportunities we currently have in Sports Link when they were in school.”