When it comes to public relations, there’s often a line between what IS okay and what SHOULD BE okay. Depending on the issue, that line could be wide, with plenty of gray area open to interpretation. But that’s not always the case, so it’s incumbent on a public figure to know where the line is on different issues – or to have a strong PR team ready to go to bat for you when you cross the line.
Take a lesson from former MLB star Curt Schilling. Even during his stellar baseball career, Schilling made a name for himself as an outspoken public figure with decidedly conservative views on most issues. Sometimes he brushed up against the aforementioned line. Now he lives there. Since he’s left baseball, Schilling has moved on to commentary on the sport that made him famous, most recently working for ESPN. In his private time, Schilling likes to espouse conservative views on various topics of the day.
Like it or not – and most don’t like it – when you work for a media company, especially in a commentary job – your opinions often bleed over into Company Policy, even if they explicitly deny it. Consumers, especially Social Justice Warriors, don’t care. They either don’t see the distinction or they ignore it for the sake of convenience.
Now, I’m not going to get into the “right” or “wrong” of what Curt said, or whether he should have the right to say it. The real issue here, from a PR perspective, is simple. There are consequences for public figures with public jobs. If you want or need to keep that job, you need to at least understand the rules and play by them. Schilling chose not to…and now he’s looking for work.
Here’s what happened:
Schilling posted a comment on Facebook, responding – though not originally posting – a meme that referenced North Carolina’s law banning transgenders from using bathrooms not aligning with their birth sex. Schilling supported the law. And, of course, folks who troll the Internet looking for celebrities to denigrate, saw this and flipped out.
Schilling tried to delete his comment, but it was too late. As I’ve said multiple times in this space, once it’s out there, It’s Out There. You can’t take it back.
It doesn’t matter that these people should have better things to do with their lives than try to get a guy fired for an opinion they don’t like. It doesn’t matter that Schilling was on his own time. It doesn’t even matter that this isn’t his first “infraction” of this kind. Schilling – or someone close to him – should know better. It’s really simple. When your job depends on you not saying something in public that offends a protected class of persons, you just don’t.
You aren’t doing a thing to advance your position, and it never ends well. There’s literally no upside unless it’s part of your job to offend that particular group of people – you know who you are – otherwise, never forget, even if you are by yourself when you tweet or post or comment, you are never truly alone online.