Being an NHL player has its rewards, but also its dangers. And I’m not just talking about on-ice pitfalls. I refer to social media – which, as this issue’s editor-in-chief has shown, can be a wonderful place but can also create a massive public relations disaster. With that in mind, here are some tips to help NHLers navigate the tricky landscape of Twitter, Facebook and the social media world:
1. GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND. Before you decide it’s a good idea to, say, dress up in blackface for Halloween – as Maple Leafs center
Tyler Bozak did in 2012 when he went as Michael Jackson, or when
Raffi Torres used the same holiday in 2011 to dress as rapper Jay-Z – you’ll want to visit the online search engine, type in the keywords “athlete” and “cultural appropriation,” and check out the search results. When you do, you’ll discover most people don’t react positively to that type of costume choice anymore, and you can choose another, non-offensive outfit for your party. Think of a search engine as complimentary embarrassment insurance. Better to take a moment and use it than ignore it and become one of those unfortunate search results.
2. LOCK YOUR SMARTPHONE. Protect yourself from your “friends” and (possibly imaginary) “hackers.” Shortly after
Tyler Seguin was traded to the Dallas Stars in July 2013, his Twitter account posted this homophobic message: “Only steers and queers in Texas, and I’m not a cow.” It was quickly deleted by Seguin – who blamed it on unnamed “hackers” – but it wasn’t the first anti-gay tweet from that account. In April of the same year, Seguin posted another derogatory message (this one he owned up to) and received sensitivity training from Patrick Burke’s
You Can Play Project. We can take Seguin at his word that it wasn’t him and imagine a sophisticated and evil computer genius targeted him to take the fall while spreading his message of homophobic hatred. Or we can guess that Seguin left his smartphone out when it wasn’t password-protected and someone – a friend, an acquaintance – grabbed it and typed out something vile. But let’s be clear: everyone has mischievous friends who enjoy playing pranks, but there’s a difference between a buddy who’ll shoe-check you with ketchup on your wingtips and a goof who believes making you look like a homophobe in front of the entire world is hilarious. The former is having some good-natured fun; the latter isn’t your friend. Make sure all your friends know what’s off-limits before the entire social media world rises in anger to tell you the same thing. And know where your phone is at all times or start communicating via carrier pigeon or Morse code.
3. RUN SOME OF YOUR HIGH-CONCEPT PHOTOGRAPHIC CONCEPTS BY A NON-NHLER BEFORE POSTING THEM ONLINE. In the middle of the last lockout, Winnipeg Jets star
Evander Kane was in Las Vegas and had two thoughts that led to trouble. The first thought was innocent enough. It went something like, “Hey, I’m a successful, young pro athlete and I want to express myself by holding two massive stacks of money up to my ear as if they were a cellphone, staring at more money in my other hand and taking a picture of it.” But the second thought – “I need to share this picture with all of Twitter!” – was where Kane went wrong. As the NHL Players’ Association was fighting team owners in boardrooms and in front of cameras and microphones, Kane was giving warehouses full of munitions to the enemy by posting the picture. He was playing into the hands of grumblers who enjoy jutting out their chests and spouting “I’d play this game for free” nonsense. He was doing far more harm than any good he imagined would come of it. Pictures are great. Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t take them. But some pictures aren’t for sharing.
This column originally appeared in the October 27 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.