At least two people have been fired in recent weeks for speaking out in the media. One was fired for saying negative things about fellow co-workers. The other was fired for expressing religious beliefs. In both cases, their respective employers acted appropriately.
If you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan, you either love Terrell Owens or you hate him. Regardless, he’s effectively no longer an Eagle, so it’s a moot point. Owens was recently suspended and then told he was not wanted back by the team. His crime? Owens publicly lashed out at teammates and his coach, making the type of comments that would fuel a feud regardless of whether the workplace is a football field or an office. Owens apologized, time and again, but the Eagles organization was fed up with their star receiver’s actions and mouth, and decided it was time to sack him.
Owens has plenty of detractors, but also some supporters. The Reverend Jesse Jackson and consumer activist/former presidential candidate Ralph Nader have said that they believe Owens was punished too severely. Psychologists and other experts have also weighed in, with some saying that Owens’ behavior is a symptom of those around him, and that instead of punishing him, the Eagles and the National Football League should help him.
Regardless of whether you believe Owens is a victim or crass example of the modern professional athlete, the simple fact is that the Philadelphia Eagles had every right, as Owens’ employer, to say enough is enough. Owens represented the Eagles, and while he performed wonderfully on the field, he was a disaster off of it, bringing negative publicity to the Eagles and his teammates. He embarrassed himself, his team and the NFL more than once, and his words finally caught up with him.
John Gilmore, no doubt, was making significantly less money than Owens when he was fired last week by cable company Knology, but like Owens, he’s now unemployed. Gilmore headed Knology’s Knoxville, TN-area operations but was relieved of his duties after telling local media outlets that five cities in the United States would face economic ruin on November 11, 2005.
Gilmore’s predictions of doom first surfaced in a column in the Knoxville News Sentinel. He had previously written two lengthy letters to the paper, and a columnist decided to investigate Gilmore’s claims that a secret society of military, political and industrial leaders were planning a major destructive action, and had already done so in the past.
In the column about Gilmore, he was introduced as “general manager of Knology of Knoxville,” though the company is never mentioned again. Regardless, the columnist notes that, “Not only is Gilmore spreading the word through letters to newspapers and the business world, he also is preparing materially for the coming disaster on Friday. He is storing up materially for the continuing hard, testing times between now and the Rapture, when it will be only the ‘true Christians’ who will be accepted into heaven, while everyone else will perish.”
The part about Gilmore using “the business world” to spread the word probably made Knology wince, and was the reason he was fired.
“The company’s position is that everybody is entitled to their opinions and John [Gilmore] is certainly among them,” a Knology spokesperson said. “John was asked not to represent his opinions as the company’s, and he continued the appearance of doing that as general manager of Knology, and we decided to let him go. They just weren’t the company’s opinions.”
Gilmore was gracious when it came to both his prediction not coming true and his firing.
“I’m kind of well-known in Knoxville being associated with Knology,” Gilmore said, “pointing out that the company felt he was representing Knology’s views with no disclaimer,” the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Gilmore’s personal views aside, Knology took proper action in first warning Gilmore not to give media interviews while he was associated with the company and then firing him. Like Owens, Gilmore was a representative of his company, and to many people, the views he expressed were distasteful (or strange, or scary, or believable). Regardless of how one feels about Gilmore’s outlook on life, he used his position as business executive to further his personal agenda, and that business wasn’t going to allow it.
Terrell Owens and John Gilmore were not the first people, and they won’t be the last, to be fired for expressing themselves. As an employee, it’s important to understand the boundaries of your employment and the First Amendment. As an employer, it’s important that employees know that boundaries exist, and to enforce protocol when necessary.
With the passing of management guru and visionary Peter Drucker, and the subject of words out of the mouth on the table, I wanted to pass on some words of wisdom from two men. The first is Drucker himself. The second is Theodore Roosevelt. I chose Roosevelt because I just completed rereading a two-volume biography of him and thought many of his notable quotations could be used in the business world.
– “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
– “Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven’t.”
– “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
– “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
– “Executives owe it to the organization and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs.”
– “The man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic – the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done.” (Send this to the next journalist who unfairly criticizes you, your company or your client.)
– “We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.”
– “There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.”
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.