Four Communication Keys for Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

I want in on the Tim Thomas brouhaha.

Boston Bruins MVP goalie Tim Thomas is a superstar in the crease but not in front of microphones and TV cameras.

If you haven’t heard, Thomas, for the second time in about a month, is being scrutinized for his “personal” opinions on religion and politics.  A month ago his refusal to join his team at the White House, as reigning NHL champions, for the customary photo opp with the standing president of the U.S. drew both praise and criticism from fans.  At the time, Thomas said he was protesting the U.S. government and not President Obama, but refused to elaborate and grew snippy with reporters when they pressed him.

This week, journalists are spilling ink over Thomas’s recent Facebook post in which he states his defense for the Catholic Church by quoting a known anti-Nazi pastor.  This most recent post is Thomas’ response to President Obama’s position that insurers must provide women access to free contraceptives.  This goes for insurance plans connected to religious organizations, such as schools and hospitals.

Following Wednesday’s hockey game, Thomas was engulfed by broadcast and print journalists who cared less about the shutout the Bruins suffered at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres but were salivating over Thomas’ post on Facebook.  Thomas was as consistent in front of the media as he has been in front of the net, and essentially refused to comment citing Facebook as part of his “personal life.” Of course, he said he was happy to talk hockey with the media, but when members of the media continued to press him on his religious and political beliefs, he abruptly ended the session and walked.

Is Tim Thomas seriously that naive?  Does he really think Facebook is “private” and “personal” and that his recent provocative actions wouldn’t be considered “news.”

I have zero issue with Thomas’ Facebook posting (though I think he should have sucked it up and joined his teammates on the White House boon doggle).  But any public figure — professional athlete, business leader, actor, politician — has to expect interest and questions from their followers and the media when their actions or positions run upstream.  It’s simply part of the deal of being a public figure and refusing to accept this fact typically has negative consequences in the court of public opinion.

If I were Tim Thomas’ PR counsel, I would advise him of these four communication keys:

  • as a public figure, your personal and professional lives are inextricably connected.  People read your Facebook page for only one reason:  you are a public figure;
  • you can’t be provocative and controversial and then expect to be allowed to run and hide.  Stand up to your convictions;
  • you’re a hero to Bostonians because you’re a winner.  You’re enjoying the halo affect of a career season. But like most things, halo affects have a shelf life. And they are typically shorter in Boston than in other towns, and
  • be proactive instead of defensive (not a hockey pun).  Let your fans see who you really are — the man behind the mask and the Wall.  How about a “town meeting” for your fans (and the media) after the season, where you can explain your important positions on politics and religion because you clearly have a lot to say.

But between now and then, prepare to back up what you do, say and publish — outside of the hockey realm — or just stop pucks.

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