You Can Say It, But You Can’t Walk Away From It

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 14, 2012 – 6:12 AM

He’s at it again.

You may remember that last month, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to attend a White House ceremony celebrating the Bruins’ championship. At the time, he posted his rationale on his Facebook page (he believes the government has grown too large).

Mr. Thomas followed up with another post to his Facebook page last week, this one standing with the Catholic Church over the Obama Administration regarding contraception:

“I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom.

‘In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.’ — by Martin Niemöller, prominent German anti-Nazi theologian…”

As you might imagine, the media had questions about his post. But in this remarkable interview, Mr. Thomas refused to answer any “personal” questions that didn’t have to do with hockey:

 

Mr. Thomas makes the case that his views live in his “personal” life and that he shouldn’t have to answer for his provocative personal posts in his “professional” life.

Let me be clear: Thomas has the right to say whatever he wants. But this article isn’t about his rights. It’s about his refusal to accept that there is a predictable cause and effect when dealing with the media.

If you make controversial statements, reporters are going to ask about them. The media don’t draw a neat line between “personal” and “professional” lives, and no one man has the power to change the way the media operate. Mr. Thomas’ behavior suggests that he wants the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater and then refuse to answer any questions about his actions afterwards.

Nor can Mr. Thomas credibly say he’s making those statements in his “personal” life. His Facebook page isn’t restricted to friends and family – the moment he allows fans to enter his network, he’s no longer communicating solely in his “personal” life. Cultivating and communicating with one’s fan base is, at least to some extent, a professional activity.

Mr. Thomas can continue to speak out as he wishes. It’s a free country, as he would say, and he has the right to say what he wants. But I wish he would recognize that his statements come with a price. Reporters are going to ask him about his comments, and they’re going to write their stories with or without his participation. (In fact, a defensive “no comment” answer followed by a walk-off makes it a better story.)

When they ask Thomas about his statements, it creates a distraction for his team, begging this question: When should a team player subordinate his public statements to the greater interest of his team? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Comments (3)

  1. By Sam Sosa-Rodriguez:

    I get where you’re coming from, I really do. I think the worst thing that Thomas does is constantly repeat his statement. It would have served his purpose to say, “This has nothing to do with….,” (like he did,) then adding “if you have any questions related to my sport or my organization, I’m more than willing to answer them, but another unrelated question will effectively end this interview.”

  2. By Bob LeDrew:

    First, what he did right: kept his temper.

    Second, what he did wrong:

    * robotically repeated the “personal life” thing
    * failed to comprehend that if you “open the door” by making your personal views known in a public forum, you WILL be asked about them, and rightly so.

    If he didn’t want to have a discussion about his politics with media, he should have locked down his FB settings or not created a FB profile at all.

  3. By Chris Montoya:

    Brad, I agree with your statement “…this article isn’t about his rights. It’s about his refusal to accept that there is a predictable cause and effect when dealing with the media.” Bingo!

    But isn’t the media just a big, bad machine we should fight against? To the media and social media, there is no separation between personal and public life. WE ARE the organizations, communities, ethnic groups, or other divisions we think we represent. News about us turns into news about those groups we represent.

    Isn’t this just common sense? Like many people untrained to deal with mass media communication, being aware of personal credibility and image impact was not factored into Tim’s comments. Many people freely fling their opinions around online without thought to the reputation and perception they are creating, even if they feel justified for a higher personal or moral cause. With public figures, it’s intensified.

    I agree with Sam Sosa-Rodriguez, an eloquent way to deal with the attention would be to distance himself from the organization and let his comments hand on their own. I’ve heard it said that ‘even controversy is good publicity’ but disagree when an organization’s reputation and business credibility are on the line.

    Could Tim have avoided this even if he posted on Facebook? Facebook has become a social platform of personal and media representation. Bob LeDrew is correct in stating that privacy settings will help, but when you are a public figure, many media reporters and investigators join Facebook pages, and can report on those happenings at any time. News is news, no matter where it comes from.

    Sometimes I cringe when I see or hear of dear friends or family members posting seemingly harmless posts between their friends that damage their reputation by posting a tasteless photo, rude comment or even hateful posts. This not only reflects on themselves, but also the community, and even out to the organizations that employ them.

    Bottom Line: If his organization doesn’t have a Social Media policy, they need one. People would do well to adopt an attitude toward Social Media as if it were Mainstream Media. Privacy settings help, but anything you post can be used against you, and it probably will.

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