Controversy, timing, hockey, personal branding, and publicity

Dan Schwabel ( recently wrote a piece on the story of two different reactions of hockey players passed over for their respective 2010 Winter Olympics national teams. My interest in this story comes from two interests of mine: professional hockey and marketing/PR. (Yes, I know it may come as a shock to some, but I do have an interest in both.)

Scott Gomez of the Montreal Canadiens, a former NHL All-Star, was passed over for the USA national team. Scott’s reaction was relatively mild-mannered and happy-go-lucky, acknowledging the realities that there are 23 roster slots but certainly more than 23 players that can be seen as qualified to fill those slots, a decision which is extremely subjective and certainly haunts some players passed over for years (probably the most notable example: Herb Brooks).

It is what it is. You get the call, you realize it, you move on and focus more on here. It wasn’t meant to be. Congratulations to the guys who made it. You just wish them the best of luck and hope the U.S.A. brings the gold.

Now, we move on to the reaction of Mikael Samuelsson, who played on the Swedish national team in 2006, and won a gold medal. Given this, it’s a bit more understandable his reaction isn’t exactly the stuff congeniality award winners are made of:

I pretty much have one comment and maybe I’ll regret it. But they can go [expletive] themselves. That’s what I really think. […] If [Swedish coach Bengt-Aake Gustafsson] doesn’t want me, he doesn’t want me.

There is a time for controversy. I think Mikael picked a really good time to be controversial. The gold medal he already has, of course, means Mikael has a little more room to get away with what he said, and in fact may well be the sports equivalent of a “get away with it card” in this case. (Scott has yet to win any Olympic medals, having only played for the USA national team once before in 2006.)

While I generally disapprove of indecorum, Mikael’s reaction will definitely get people talking about him and may have little effect on his real chances of making the Olympic team. That’s not to say Scott Gomez’s graceful reaction was the wrong one. Not all publicity is good publicity, and Scott’s choice was likely a good course of action for Scott in his circumstances. In the proper circumstances, publicity about controversy can be leveraged to work to one’s advantage.