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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“This Is the Only Statement I Will Make On This Matter”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 27, 2012 – 12:00 pm

There may be no “I” in “team,” but there are two in “Bruins goalie.”

When members of the Boston Bruins NHL championship team went to the White House this week for the Stanley Cup winners’ annual meet-and-greet with President Obama, goalie Tim Thomas refused to attend. On his Facebook page, Mr. Thomas explained his decision:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People…Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic.


Photo Credit: Jewel Sanad/AFP/Getty Images

What caught my eye (other than his odd grammatical choices) was the last sentence of his statement. But Thomas wasn’t alone in taking that “one and only statement” stance. Bruins President Cam Neely released his own statement:

"As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject."


Mr. Thomas has received mixed reviews for his decision, some seeing his move as selfish and others seeing it as principled. I side with those who labeled his a selfish act, since it hijacked the headlines for his own beliefs instead of allowing the spotlight to shine solely on his team’s achievement.

But the two statements got me wondering: Is it a good idea for media spokespersons to release a statement that says, “This is the only comment I will be making?”

Generally speaking, I’d say no. Anthony Weiner and Herman Cain also released similar statements – but the questions kept coming anyway, and both men were forced to abandon their pledges not to discuss their sex scandals any further.

That happened in this case, as well. Despite his Monday pledge not to talk about this issue any further, Cam Neely talked about it again on Tuesday. His pledge lasted less than 24 hours.

Goalie Tim Thomas' Decision Hijacked The Headlines

There’s good reason for a goalie to put up a defensive guard on the ice, but there’s little reason for media spokespersons to do so in a public statement. Doing so can make them look obstructionist, controlling, or both – and they could accomplish the same result without taking that risk.

Both Mr. Thomas and Mr. Neely should have left that sentence out. When reporters inevitably asked them about the incident, they could have simply said:

“You know, I’ve said everything I’m going to about this matter. It’s time to put the focus back on our play in the ice, and I’m not going to allow this to create any distractions.”


Note: I bolded the last line of each statement for emphasis. They were not bolded in the original statements.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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