Our Opinion: Twitter doesn’t give pass to fact-checking

On Tuesday night, the Duke Blue Devils beat the Wisconsin Badgers in one of the best national championship games in recent memory. The game went down to the wire, but Duke eventually prevailed.

Celebrities and common folk alike took to Twitter and other social media platforms to give their opinion on the game and the outcome. You never expect all of the comments online to be rational, but when it comes to United States Senators, you would hope they would weigh and measure what they tweet before hitting send.

Claire McCaskill, a United States senator who represents the state of Missouri, tweeted the following message upon conclusion of the game:

“Congrats to Duke, but I was rooting for team who had stars that are actually going to college & not just doing semester tryout for NBA.”

This might seem harmless enough at first glance, but in the current landscape of college athletics, it is indefensible in two main regards.

For starters, especially in Division I athletics, the NCAA has been under heavy scrutiny for profiting on the backs of world-class athletes, while the players themselves see none of the money. The coverage of this issue transcended sports news and reached into national headlines after the Ed O’Bannon antitrust class action lawsuit (a former player sued the NCAA for using his likeness in video games and won) was brought into the spotlight.

In basketball, athletes are required to play a year of college basketball before being eligible for the NBA draft, meaning Duke athletes such as Jhalil Okafor, who was NBA-ready in high school, were required to attend school. In a few months when he is an NBA lottery pick, Okafor will become a millionaire before the age of 20. If he is forced to play college ball for one year, why would you expect him to stay longer? He got what he needed from Duke, it just didn’t happen to be in the form of a degree.

McCaskill tried to save face from this angle with this follow-up tweet:

“To be clear folks, this isn’t about the kids, this is about the system. This is about the NCAA/NBA. I don’t blame the very talented athletes.”

McCaskill is 100 percent right about there being a problem, but there is a time and place to discuss that and absolutely not at the expense of Duke after winning the title game.

Duke has a reputation as a strong academic school and is able to maintain top of the line athletic programs, as well. This is where her line about students “actually going to college” comes into question. In fact, it is blatantly false to say Wisconsin players are actually going to school and finishing their studies and that Duke’s players are not.

It’s unfortunate we don’t have a more recent data sample to examine, but according to the most recent study on the Federal Graduation Success Rate of Male Basketball Players in Division I Athletics, which was conducted in 2007, Duke not only had a higher percentage than Wisconsin, but they blew them out of the water. Duke’s rate of graduation for men’s basketball players was 67 percent; Wisconsin’s success rate was 40 percent.

At the very least, Sen. McCaskill owes Duke University and its basketball team an apology for smearing the university.

Since the majority of our staff are communication majors, we thought this was a beautiful reminder of what we hear so often in our field of study: check your facts first.