Last night, Chad tweeted out emojis of a horse being shot, with the words "Shhhhh. Just close your eyes. It will be over soon." I was running the TDS' Twitter account, and I thought it was a little funny, but recognized an official team account might be overstepping the guidelines set down by the higher ups. These guidelines, as I generally understand them to be, are:
- Don't tweet anything offensive
- Don't tweet anything people may construe as offensive
- Promote the brand
Clearly, in the view of pockets of Twitter and some national media members, this tweet stepped over the line.
Here's where I pause for a second and tell you a little something about how the sausage is made with these national websites. I wrote for the SB Nation main page for three years before taking over TDS. I ran the SB Nation NBA Twitter accounts on some game nights. I am still privy to many of the discussions surrounding the creation, and promotion, of content.
SB Nation wrote about the tweet. So did ESPN, NBC Sports, The Washington Post and every other national sports outlet that emphasizes creating social, shareable content (which at this point is all of them). This morning, I had more Google Alerts (set to "Houston Rockets") about the tweet than about the Rockets' first series victory in six years.
Sausage eaters, meet sausage makers.
Is this tweet news? Any of the journalists who are employed by those publications would tell you no. Is it content? Yes. And in this era, content trumps news in terms of shares, branding and the all-important click. You don't need a hot take to tell you that, you're an Internet consumer. This shit is everywhere.
But here's where it takes a wrong turn. Chad has run this account incredibly well in his time there (it has 681,000 followers, the Facebook page has almost 3 million likes, and the Instagram account has 564,000 followers). By all accounts, he's a great dude and has been very, very good at his job. And today, he's unemployed.
Go back up and read that tweet again. Carefully. Some have said the language is a little "rapey." I'm from a suburb of New York City, so I didn't grow up around ranches and farms that many in this country -- particularly Texas -- did. As I understand it, when horses are too sick or old to have a pleasant life, they are put down. Often, the owners of said horses say comforting things to the animals to make sure their last moments aren't filled with fear and pain.
This was not an offensive tweet. Was it potentially over the line? Sure, I guess you can see it that way. It was a sensitive time for the Mavericks.
But the Houston Rockets higher-ups got this one wrong. Feigen spoke to Shanks today and the deposed social media manager said he had no ill will toward the organization, and had been working there for four years. Shanks' quotes, from Feigen's previously linked story:
"I never meant to offend anybody," Shanks said. "I attempted an admittedly edgy jab at the Mavericks' expense and it did not go over well with everyone. The organization supported my efforts to make the account one of the best in the NBA by pushing the envelope, but they deemed this too far.
"I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I got from the Rockets and know they acted in what they thought was their best interest (to) avoid any more controversy. I didn't mean to advocate violence toward animals; just let my emotions get the best of me in a jab at the Mavs that was not very well thought out. I'm proud of my four seasons of award winning work with the Rockets and will always be a fan. I wish there would've been another method of punishment, but I have no ill feelings toward them. I loved my job."
There is already a petition with 642 signatures online imploring the Rockets to restore Shanks to his post. I hope they listen. It's jarring that an organization led in part by Daryl Morey -- himself not immune to a Twitter faux pas -- would take such drastic action, especially one we all love and support.
I don't even believe the tweet was something to apologize for. But Shanks did apologize. I also don't think the Rockets have done a great job with their handling of the new normal on the internet (for instance, they have been dismissive at best of my efforts to gain a closer relationship with the team since taking over).
This one proved it. Shanks may have made a mistake, but the Rockets made a bigger one. It's the job of people in power to know when to let something like this blow over and learn from it. It's the job of the adults in the room to know not to overreact.
Clearly there was no adult in the Rockets office today willing to do what was right for an organization we know can do better. This was not the way to treat a longtime team employee. This was a shame.