Too Far? Emoji Tweet Leads to Firing

Houston Rockets social media manager fired because of tweet

Our hometown Houston Rockets may have won their in-state, rivalry matchup with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of this year’s NBA Playoffs, but in the process, they lost a social media manager who posted a controversial tweet (since deleted) during the closing seconds of the series-deciding Game 5 at the Toyota Center.

A tweet containing the emoji of a horse head next to an emoji of a gun – with implications of animal violence – was deemed offensive enough that it resulted in the Rockets’ social media manager, Chad Shanks’s, immediate dismissal from the organization. Judging from the reaction on social media, the Internet is torn about whether the tweet was serious enough to merit Mr. Shanks’s firing. Some say the tweet crossed the line, while others claim the tweet was harmless and the reaction was overblown. Some fans even started an online petition to help try and get Mr. Shanks’s job back. 

What’s unfortunate and ironic about the situation is that Mr. Shanks had helped grow the Houston Rockets into one of the more cleverfun and engaging Twitter feeds in professional sports.

The Mavericks reaction to the Rockets’ tweet was slightly classier:

The Rockets Twitter immediately apologized:

At the end of the day, what was thought to be a harmless, fun poke on Twitter at a rival, resulted in a popular social media manager’s firing. This wasn’t the first time – nor will it be the last – that a brand has received criticism over a controversial post on social media. The fails have ranged from sloppy researchpoor judgmentinsensitivity, and well, who knows about this one?

It has been a recent trend for professional sports social media accounts to trade playful trash-talk with other teams, and team social media managers are encouraged to be witty, clever, and fun. Still, it is important to remember that in the world of social media, it is imperative that the fine line between “funny” and “offensive” is considered before pressing the “send” button. The last thing that brand managers want to happen is simultaneously offending scores of followers while embarrassing their employer.

Fortunately, it seems that Mr. Shanks learned his lesson, albeit the hard way, and was even gracious enough to participate in a Q&A with Sporting News about his recent dismissal. While no one likes seeing anyone fired, examples like what happened with the Houston Rockets this week can serve as a good reminder that humor on social media needs to be tasteful and appropriate. Nothing can hurt a brand faster than posting something offensive online for millions to see and share in real time.


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