The Houston Rockets Fired Their Social Media Manager for Being a Sore Winner

Being a social media manager for a major brand has to be a thankless job: at best, you are crafting inoffensive content for people who enjoy the company for which you work that is likely to engage them for a few seconds before they go on to the next thing. At worst, you—well, you make a huge screwup and you get fired.

It’s hard to tell if the former social media manager for the Houston Rockets really made a huge screwup or if he just engaged in some, er, less-than-classy gloating, but he’s looking for work nonetheless. As the Rockets were clinching their game five victory over the Mavericks to advance to the next round of the NBA Playoffs, Chad Shanks tweeted from the @HoustonRockets account an emoji of a horse’s head and an emoji of a gun with the words “Shhhhh. Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon.”

As branded tweets go, it’s not a great one. It reminds us of things that make us sad, and part of the point of brands on Twitter is to make sure that we never associate the brand with anything bad. But they do shoot horses (don’t they?), and forcing Rockets fans to remember that as they’re celebrating the team’s victory is kind of a bummer, we guess. And the tone of the tweet is weird too, with some reading it as a rape joke.

“Just close your eyes, it’ll all be over soon” does seem like the sort of thing a person might say to an animal that they’re putting down, and the emoji seem to indicate that that was the scene that Shanks was trying to set. Still, a good piece of advice for people in brand marketing might be: “If it could easily be taken as a rape joke, it’s probably not worth tweeting.”

At the same time, the fact that Shanks was fired over the tweet is surprising. It was ill-advised, and the guy does have only one job, which is to represent the Rockets well on social media, but in the annals of awful tweets by brands, it’s hardly in the top ten.

This is unique territory for sports teams to navigate, though, even outside of the possible interpretations of Shanks’ choice of words and images. Because no matter what he meant exactly, he was definitely gloating about the Mavs’s loss from the Rockets’ official account. And Twitter accounts are the voice of whatever they represent: when James Harden tweets “Thanks to the @nike campus for hosting me today! #Blessed to be a part of the @nikebasketball fam,” we assume that is how James Harden feels about Nike. So when someone tweeting from the Rockets’ official account is a sore winner after the game against the Mavericks, it definitely makes the Rockets organization look like sore winners.

In other words, the problem with the tweet might not be that it reminded us that sometimes horses die, or that if you ignore the emoji, you can read it as a rape joke, but that it’s downright unsportsmanlike. That’s a problem for a sports team, obviously. (Whoever runs the social media for the Mavs called that out too, responding “Not very classy but we still wish you guys the best of luck in the next round.”)

Nevertheless, it’s always more interesting and engaging when brands are willing to take some sort of stand on Twitter rather than boil everything to the blandest possible sentiments. It’s unclear where that line really is, but for whichever reason, the Rockets clearly decided that Shanks crossed it.

 (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)