›› Storify: View USC player's apologies for anti-El Paso tweet
›› Storify: Hyundai Sun Bowl: Positive tweets from USC players

Social media can be a dangerous place to air your feelings, especially when you are a young college athlete.

Two University of Southern California football players recently received plenty of backlash after they used Twitter to bash El Paso, only to have to apologize the same way.

The latest incident occurred Thursday when Leonard Williams, a freshman defensive tackle for the USC Trojans, apologized to El Pasoans after he used an expletive to describe the city Wednesday night.

Less than a month ago, freshman linebacker Tony Burnett had to issue an apology after trashing El Paso.

USC is in El Paso to play Georgia Tech on Monday in the 79th Hyundai Sun Bowl.

"It has become a PR nightmare for USC," said Jimmy Sanderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Clemson University. "I think there is an overall lack of understanding of how social media works and how things can blow up."


Sanderson has studied social media's role in college athletics and co-wrote "The Positives and Negatives of Twitter: Exploring How Student-Athletes Use Twitter and Respond to Critical Tweets."

Sanderson said while responsibility falls on Williams, members of USC's coaching and administrative staff should have given better guidance.

"Frankly, after the first incident they should have sat everybody down and told them to tweet only positive stuff about the bowl game if anything at all," Sanderson said. "They didn't use it as a teaching moment. If they did, it would have probably encouraged the kids to embrace El Paso."

During a news conference on Thursday, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said sorry once again. He also apologized after Burnett's tweet.

"I'm very sorry. We've talked at length about this," Kiffin said. "But when you have 110 kids, unfortunately sometimes one of them screws up. Another apology was sent out. This certainly doesn't reflect the way our staff or our team feels about this. I'm really upset about it."

Asked about stopping the tweets, Kiffin said, "You have got to be careful about getting into people's rights."

However, Sanderson said Kiffin and other USC leaders should accept more responsibility.

"Those feelings of apathy are probably coming from the top," Sanderson said. "I can imagine USC isn't happy to be in El Paso just based on what their expectations were. But that isn't any fault of the city."

USC had come into the season as The Associated Press' No. 1 team, but a 7-5 record dropped them out of the Top 25.

When USC players learned the school had accepted an invitation to the Sun Bowl to play Georgia Tech, Burnett tweeted: "Georgia Tech!? El Paso, Texas!? New Years Eve!? FML"

FML basically translates to "screw my life."

When his tweet caught the attention of El Pasoans and the media, he deleted it and sent out an apology.

The Trojans arrived in El Paso on Wednesday and the trip started with smiles and dancing at the airport, but it ended on a sour note with Williams' tweet.

Channel 7-KVIA reported that Williams tweeted, "Out here in El Paso. (Expletive) city but glad I can enjoy this moment with the USC family."

By Thursday morning, Williams had deleted his tweet and gone on to apologize.

"Sorry about what I said last night. It came out wrong. I'm grateful to be a part of this bowl and looking forward to a great game," Williams tweeted.

He added, "I was saying I'm just proud to be here with my family."

Williams also responded to individuals, apologizing and trying to explain his mistake.

"@PageWantsFun I took it down because it was not how I really am and shouldn't be presented in that way," he tweeted.

"I also think the people in El Paso are very welcoming and made me feel at home. Once again I apologize for speaking with out thinking."

Williams wasn't the only USC player to tweet about El Paso on Wednesday night. However red-shirt freshman fullback Soma Vainuku's tweets praising the Sun City did not draw as much attention.

"El Paso pretty cool place," Vainuku tweeted.

He also commented on $3.09 gas prices and said he wished fuel costs were like that in California.

Vainuku instagramed a photo of the inside of an elevator being decorated in USC wallpaper and tweeted "El Paso showing some love!"

Other USC players followed Vainuku's example on Thursday. Senior safety T.J. McDonald tweeted, "These people out here in El Paso showin mad love!"

Sanderson said USC could use Vainuku and McDonald as a way to turn things around.

"They need to use those kids as an example and model for the other players," he said.

But Williams' tweet wasn't the only thing that upset El Pasoans.

The Trojans were apparently an hour late for the annual Sheriff's Posse Dinner, according to 600 ESPN El Paso Radio's twitter.

"Bad form #USC. Hour late for Sheriff's Posse Dinner. #GaTech coach Paul Johnson took team & left. Can't blame him," 600 ESPN tweeted and added a photo of empty seats.

Sun Bowl officials got on their official Twitter account Wednesday night to explain why USC was late.

"Here's what happened: USC practiced at SAC, for out of towners that's on the other side of town," the Sun Bowl tweeted. "Then practice ran late and they had to haul 100+ people to the other side of town. Best scenario? No. Did GT leave? Yes."

The Sun Bowl added: "Now let's move on, nothing to see here. Tomorrow we have GT at hospital visits and both teams meeting real heroes at Fort Bliss #SunBowl."

After the negative tweets and dinner fiasco, many El Paso football fans have vowed on Twitter and Facebook to support Georgia Tech during Monday's game.

That might have been the reason for Yellow Jackets freshman receiver Travin Henry's tweet: "They showing us more love in El Paso than they do in the A(tlanta)."

During his research, Sanderson noted that not many school sports information directors address social media, but said that in today's world of instant information, they should.

"A lot of policies are very vague and tell them to not do anything inappropriate," Sanderson said. "Not realizing what is inappropriate for a 35-year-old athletic director may not strike a 20-year-old athlete as inappropriate."

And it can never be too late for USC to regain some fans.

"It's definitely more difficult (to be a crowd favorite) but they still have an opportunity," Sanderson said. "They should come up with a USCLovesEP hash tag,"

Sanderson emphasized that some fans were already forgiving Williams after he apologized.

"There is still a lot of time for them to turn this to a positive," Sanderson said. "Now I don't know if they will do that. I suspect they may just ask the players to shut down the tweets until after the game."

Aaron Bracamontes may be reached at abracamontes@elpasotimes.com; 546-6156. Follow him on Twitter @AaronBrac

Times reporter Bill Knight contributed to this story.