You Can Say It, But You Can’t Walk Away From It
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. In a recent 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.