How Twitter Can Cost You Your Job

The May 16 edition of Sports Illustrated reports Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall questioned the public’s reaction to Osama bin Laden’s demise, tweeting, “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak…”

Later, again on Twitter, Mendenhall wondered whether planes could have taken down the twin towers on 9/11. He has since deleted that post but has continued to offer his feelings on the topic.

He was subsequently dropped as a spokesman by Champion athletic apparel after the company decided his comments were inconsistent with their values.

The 23-year-old recently had signed a four-year extension to endorse Champion through 2015, but the company announced last Friday that, while it respected Mendenhall’s right to express opinions, it no longer believed he could “appropriately represent” the brand.

This story should give us pause when we flippantly and sometimes emotionally express our reactions and opinions in 140 succinct characters on Twitter to a news story, bad customer service, and the like.

Those of us who live with social media respect the right to free speech and become so comfortable with the medium that it literally becomes our real-time mouthpiece, but we should think hard before we emotionally type out a Tweet that resides on a server far away forever and has potential to damage our future.

A friend who manages a local restaurant told me Twitter frustrated him because his staff could provide a customer good service for months on end and never a tweet, but one evening of bad service and a Tweet goes out immediately. He said, “I can’t win.”

Don’t get me wrong, if you know my Tweets, I can be quite opinionated and at times emotional, but this story really helps me realize anew the gravity of those 140 short little characters.

Thoughts: Do you think Mendenhall should have been dropped?

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41 Responses to “How Twitter Can Cost You Your Job”

  1. Do I think he should be dropped? Well, I think if he, as a public figure who is being employed as a “spokesman” on a companies behalf “speaks” in a way that is contrary to their values/beliefs/vision…they have a responsibility to drop him (whoever “him” may be). And, I think, as individuals we really do need to be thoughtful and responsible about our comments. Our comments matter and have an effect (or is it affect — I never can get those two right) and an impact on others and as in this case, on our own lives. What we “say” via twitter or any other social network reveals something about us — sometimes things we don’t intend to reveal — and we really do need to be aware of that and responsible with our words.

    Bless you today!

  2. I think Champion had the right to do what they wanted. I’m sure in their contract with Rasheed, it spelled out their expectations for behavior of someone representing them. I think Afflack had the right to get rid of Gilbert Gottfried as their duck voice too. He tweeted some insensitive things about the Japan earthquake & tsunami. At first Joan Rivers defended him citing how comedians handle pain and tragedy in quirky ways. Later she admitted that since he was a spokesperson and public ambassador for Afflack that he should’ve maybe checked himself before tweeting. Afflack has a strong presence in Japan. More and more I keep thinking about Suzy Welch and her book 10-10-10… Thinking before you do something and how it will impact you 10 minutes from now, 10 months and 10 years. It really helps me put things in perspective and take just a brief moment to think if something I want to do or say is best or appropriate. Great post Randy.

    • @David Ballard, Thanks, David, I didn’t know about the Gilbert Gottfried incident. Interesting!

    • @David Ballard, This is where I land too. It doesn’t matter if I think he should have been dropped. It’s Champion’s money and decision and they can keep/drop whoever they like.

      In all of this, it’s now clear that twitter is being held on the same level as press conferences, personal interviews and newspaper pieces. Twitter is no longer “new media” – it is media.

  3. Scott D. Winter May 16, 2011 at 07:48

    I’ve been guilty of this. After one such rant I created my own Twitter theme song (to the tune of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”): Maybe next time I’ll think before I Tweet!

  4. This weekend our Pastor talked about the difference between “cause and effect” and “reaping and sowing.” He used Joseph as the example showing that when Joseph just shot his mouth off (like when he blurted out his dreams to his brothers who already didn’t like him) he didn’t get the reaction he expected vs. the time he spent in working for Potiphar and thinking through what he was doing to make Potiphar very wealthy.

    I don’t blame Champion one bit. I suspect the comment about Osama bin Laden would have been ignored, but once he started in with the 9/11 truther conspiracy angle, he became a liability for them. This is not all that different from Gilbert Godfrey being dropped by AFLAC for making jokes about Japan during the tsunami devastation.

    Think before you tweet.

  5. This topic came up in meeting Friday afternoon . . . You can never, EVER forget that what you post on any social network site is immediately and forever public, and all of your posts – even to friends – reflect on you and your “brand”. Of course, I knew to always be conscious of the message I was broadcasting because I took LifeWork 2.0 . . . (hee!)

    Mendenhall most certainly has the right to think and say whatever he wants… and he also has the right to share those thoughts via social media. But Champion also has rights – and that includes being able to choose who they feel best represents their brand. They were hiring an athlete to front their line – now that his commetary is overshadowing his abilities as a football player, Mendenhall diluted his “brand.” He’s not just an athlete – he’s a Page Six news item. NOT what Champion signed up for – and not what they should be expected to pay for.


  6. I’m going to check out that book by Suzy Welch…something to think about!

      • @Randy Elrod, Oh, sorry…the book 10.10.10 by Suzy Welch. The book (from the info. I found) looks at making decisions in light of their ramification 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now. This along with the 3 second rule (forget where I read about that) could be life changing. The 3 second rule is to take 3 seconds before reacting or speaking in situations — could save a lot of chaos and regrets. Actually, I think both of these “principles” have a lot to do with enabling us to RESPOND to life, rather than REACT and there is a big difference between those two things, I think. However, for both I would probably add — take that reflection time and do the reflecting infront of the One who know exactly what the impact and out come will be. :0)

        Keep blessing us with your insights, Randy.

        • @Debbie, Very, very good insight on your part as well, Debbie. I must have that book!! Thanks so much!!

          I love how comments enrich the post and provide so many layers!

  7. I’m sure if he had tweeted “USA! USA!” it would’ve been a different kettle of fish altogether.

    As someone currently sitting deep in Steelers country, I must say, personally, it’s not often I admire or give a rat’s whatever about the opinions of players. But I’m sure admiring Mendenhall now.

    While I find Champion to be reactionary, they were within their rights. That said, Mendenhall, the poor b*stard merely expressed a politically unpopular opinion. He didn’t promote criminal activity, fondle waitresses or tell 12 year-olds to jump off of bridges. And, he was representing the company as an athlete not Gore Vidal. (Champion might’ve taken the position that, while the payer’s tweets don’t reflect the company’s values, supporting an Uh-merican’s Right to Free Speech does).

    Does Champion have an explicit official policy (in their contracts) regarding spokesmen expressing personal viewpoints contrary to the company line. With those viewpoints spelled out, not a nebulous “consistent with our [unnamed] company values.”

  8. I’m suprised you haven’t been targeted by Franklin’s finest officers of the law ;) i guess they are too busy busting tourists with traffic violations. Pete Wilson wrote a great blog about a month ago about being positive in what we tweet. i’ve been guilty of being critical of musical performances on television and such. i’m really trying to guard my tweets and be more positive, and as to Mendenhall, he can say what he wants, it’s a free country, but Champion has the same freedom to fire him if they so choose.

    • @Chuck Harris, Let me be clear, it is not the Franklin Police that is the issue, it is the commissioners, alderman, city manager and our other leaders that are the issue. The police force (on which I have dear friends) are simply doing what they are told.

      Okay, now that I have that off my chest…did I get emotional? :)

      Yes, Chuck, well said!!

      Can’t wait to see you Wednesday night!

  9. Though Champion has their rights, I feel dropping Mendenhall was a bit harsh. I guess companies endorse athletes not just for their athleticism but also their personal views. Having a positive online presence is so critical. I’ve seen people lose their jobs due, in part, to negativity online.

  10. I think “should he be dropped” is inconsequential – in business, the company sees a spokesperson is doing more harm than good. They are paying them to do the company good, so the decision to cut him loose is a no-brainer.

    Likewise, when we say flippant remarks, we can argue that people shouldn’t hold it against us, but they will. One hard lesson I’ve learned in ministry is that, while I occasionally have to say something that people will get offended by, there will be consequences. And once I have offended someone, I will not be able to minister to them any longer – they will shut me out. That doesn’t mean I don’t rebuke when it’s called for. It just means I have to think it is important enough that I’m willing to risk losing influence in someone’s life over it.

    Makes you think…which is a good thing!

  11. I may be reading between the lines a bit, but I think Champion may have just said that their corporate values include:

    * encouraging the celebration of our enemies’ violent demise.

    * controlling the opinions of their employees and contractors.

    * implicit with the second point, perpetuating the idea that a corporation CAN promote a particular political view.

    How can a corporation have values (especially when they have nothing to do with the purpose of the corporation)? It’s not a sentient entity. It’s a machine that stifles sentient entities, grinds them up, and uses the pieces it likes to churn out productivity.

    I expect to have negative emotions from now on when I see the Champion logo and brand.

    • @Jeff Holton, Wow!!! Thought provoking, Jeff! Thanks!

      • @Randy Elrod I think corporations can have values. For what it’s worth, I think Dan Cathy runs a sentient corporation (Chick-Fil-A). Doing a little reading about Champion, it’s interesting to find that among other things, they were the first to introduce the “hoodie” hooded sweatshirt, reverse weave sweatshirt, screen-printed numbers and letters on athletic uniforms, reversible t-shirts, originally developed for U.S. Navy training programs of World War II, socks with stripes and more:

        I don’t know anything about Champion’s values, but since their URL is, it appears they are strong supporters of our country (unless they were just late to the URL buying game and someone already owned Perhaps they’re just focused on making quality sportswear and don’t really want to be in the middle of anything controversial or have their “ambassadors” being controversial. Who knows. All I know is that I’m nice to people who are my clients or who I wish to be my clients. I also wouldn’t purposely say or do anything to offend them or their loved ones or family. I can have thoughts and beliefs, but maybe just not Tweet them all. My grampa used to say “son, you don’t have to tell everything you know”. Maybe that applies here. Maybe Twitter shouldn’t be a digital echo of our constant stream of thought… unless it’s a really funny quip. Ha!

        Perhaps look at it this way: Rashard Mendenhall was working at Disney World as a Mickey Mouse character and he took off his head and walked around the park. He got out of character which is a big no-no at Disney. Could that be all it actually is? Again. Who knows.

  12. Lyndie Blevins May 16, 2011 at 10:51

    I have to say that his original tweet was one of the group that made me take a step back and evaluate what was going on in my heart. I felt it was an honest reaction and I felt his pain. Perhaps all would have been well if had stopped with that remark.

    This is a new media world. No doubt we all are taking risk communicating in this place and time. You need to be responsible for what you say and willing to bear the results of how other people react to your words.

  13. I’ve become less a fan of Twitter recently — okay, more of how people use it. It seems that people are saying things they never would say in public, now emboldened with a mouthpiece that still allows them to hide.

    That said, without fully understanding the story, I’m not sure why they dropped him. I agree that this story gives us pause when we would consider publicly criticizing a person or institution, but this seems to be slightly different.

    If he were to tweet “The Steelers suck!” that would be one issue, but to express a political-philosophical issue that obviously matters deeply to him and get fired for it seems to me to be wrong.

    Maybe it’s because I agree with his bin Laden tweet — at least, part of it.

  14. Far too many confuse a company’s right to fire a spokesperson with whether or not they should have done it. Did Champion have the right to do it? Sure. I think it was a foolish decision on their part.

    Mendenhall’s political thoughts likely will fly in one ear and out the other of most of his fans. Plus, I tend to agree with his first thoughts regarding the celebration of death. (The other stuff…eh…not so much.) If he was dogging it on the field, bad mouthing the team whose uniform he would be wearing in promo spots or ads then it would make more sense to me.

    Honestly, I’m like Jeff above…I’ll have a negative view of the company for their action.

  15. I’m guilty of that… good reminder. Although I am known for bragging on a good restaurant! :) Thanks Randy.

  16. @Deb Barnett, Awesome, Deb!! BraggIng is good!! Keep it up! I think we all cab afford to be more positive!!!

  17. Ultimately, whatever one posts as a tweet, Facebook status, or blog should be something one doesn’t mind anyone finding. Else, don’t do it. Thus, the consequences for one’s social updates are valid. A company should be free to support or not support someone based on their expressions. Granted, he may have never said anything beyond those 2 tweets about 9/11…but if those tweets define a stance on a topic that is very passionate to a sponsor, a sponsor should be able to make a decision based on it.

Created by Randy Elrod

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