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PR Lesson from Tim Thomas

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Much has been made of Bruins’ star goalie Tim Thomas’ recent social media based controversy. For the actual details of the story, see a couple of good blog posts here. (Note: the linked posts are an exception to the industry opinions discussed below.)

The very short version of the story is that Thomas, who declined to attend the White House as part of the traditional photo shoot event awarded the Stanley Cup champion, posted some thoughts and personal opinions on Facebook.

What ensued over the next few weeks was that lots of communications professionals offered advice to Thomas that could usually be summed up as ‘shut up and play hockey.’ The lesson was that an iconic athlete shouldn’t speak his mind regarding politics or religion.

If that really is the lesson, does that mean that these same people would have also told boxing champion Cassius Clay not to speak out against the Vietnam War and not to change his name to Muhammad Ali in support of Islam?

Of course, Thomas and Ali are very different people at different times in history, but the point is that PR/SM people need to remember that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry. Ali was a tremendously gifted fighter, but in many ways it was his over-the-top personality that elevated him from a great fighter to “The Greatest.”

All the people that immediately concluded that Thomas needed to be more diligent and protective of his public image may be missing the point. Of course, I don’t know the truth either, but maybe just maybe this controversy is just what Thomas wants. The larger point here is a reminder that not all clients are created equal and that social media isn’t the only measurement of a person’s character.

Ali photo

Thomas photo

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