By Shehan Jeyarajah
After sending a tweet that many said crossed the line, Houston Rockets social media manager Chad Shanks was let go Wednesday by the organization. The tweet came in the waning seconds of Houston’s series win over the Dallas Mavericks, and featured an emoji horse with an emoji gun pointed at it with the caption, “Shhhhh. Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon.”
Despite the controversy, Shanks received an outpouring of support from around the country, including articles in several national publications. His fans tweeted “#BringBackChad” to try and convince the Rockets organization to reconsider their decision.
Unbeknownst to many, Shanks received a master’s degree in journalism from Baylor in 2010 and is a former staff writer at the Baylor Lariat. He sat down with the Lariat to discuss the tweet, the aftermath and what he took from his Baylor education.
What was the thought process behind the tweet? Did you think it would cause the kind of controversy it did?
One of our goals with
@HoustonRockets was to bring a level of levity and snark. We’ve won awards for doing just that. We consistently rank near the top of the league in fan engagement. Pushing the envelope is not out of the ordinary.
I knew when I sent the tweet that I was walking the line and Mavs fans would probably be a little upset, but I didn’t really interpret it the same way. I didn’t see it as the Rockets advocating for animal violence and I’m still a little shocked it ended up being interpreted that way. At the same time, one of my jobs is being able to anticipate reception of our content, and obviously in that way I messed up royally. It was the heat of the moment with the series about to end, but obviously it didn’t go over well.
Why did the Rockets choose the punishment they did for you?
This was the punishment the Rockets thought was appropriate. Obviously I hoped for a punishment with a little less permanence, but they did what they thought was best for the organization. I don’t think they anticipated letting me go would almost create more attention than the tweet. People online sent me encouragement, signed petitions, trended #BringBackChad…I don’t know why people care so much, but I’m incredibly humbled that they did.
Did the Rockets detail why they felt strongly enough to let you go?
The Rockets said the tweet did not reflect the values of the organization, but they were not real specific other than that. The owner [Leslie Alexander] is a big animal rights advocate. There was no discussion or opportunity for me to give my side of the story. It was already decided when I got to work. There are no hard feelings from my side. I understand their reaction.
What has it been like to go from working behind the scenes to an Internet celebrity in a day?
I don’t really know how to handle it. Nothing like this has happened to me before. I went from about 400 to 4,000 Twitter followers in one day and I’ve gotten countless requests on Facebook and LinkedIn to connect. I’ve gotten several media requests, and some Houston TV guys showed up at my house last night. I’ve never been one to seek attention. I kept it pretty quiet about me being behind the account. When it came to media in the press box or things like that, people knew, a few fans that I grew close to knew who I was, but most didn’t.
How did people figure out it was you?
The Rockets site ClutchFans said it was me who sent the tweet. I knew a guy from the site and he posted and linked to my tweets. One thing led to another and it blew up. I thought I might get some message, but I didn’t know I’d be getting messages on ESPN Radio.
You are, of course, a Baylor graduate and former staff member at the Baylor Lariat. What did you take away from Baylor and working at the Lariat that helped you heading into the job market?
I took a long path. I didn’t go to Baylor for undergraduate, but took part in a master’s in journalism program. I always thought I was a good writer and had a love for writing. I eventually did an internship at the Waco Tribune-Herald, but I got my first experience through [Baylor Lariat assistant media adviser] Julie Freeman. I got to know her in a master’s class and I told her what I wanted to do and she helped me get into the Lariat ad department.
After a few weeks, a staff writer spot opened up and I took over covering the Waco beat. Since I lived off campus, I understood the storylines of Waco. It was my first published writing. Even though I only worked there for a semester, my experience was invaluable. I left with clips and interviewing experience. There are some things you can’t learn without doing it.
How did you end up with the Houston Rockets?
I graduated with my degree and went to work at the Digital Media Studio at Baylor. It was originally in the bottom of Moody Library, but I don’t think it’s there anymore. We were a one-stop shop for professors’ tech needs, whether print, design, audio or visual.
That was my first step into the digital world. Then I worked in the marketing department at the Hankamer School of Business. I left Baylor well-rounded and took a job in the market department at Moody Gardens in Galveston. The Rockets then hired me in 2012.
Did you do social media right away?
I originally did email marketing. Social media existed at the time, but it was seen as more person-to-person interaction. I managed it, but it was a secondary responsibility. It’s grown a whole lot and now we have Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat among others. I eventually transitioned to a full-time social media content producer, which I did until I guess Wednesday when I was let go.
What’s next for you?
There’s been quite a few groups asking if I’m interested in job possibilities, but I’m not in any state of mind to be making long-term life decisions. But a lot of companies are reaching out and I’m going to listen to what they have to say eventually.