About a year and a half ago, some friends and I invested in a new, upstart company called Sauce Hockey, which sells hockey lifestyle apparel. I was eventually named Managing Partner of the business when the founder moved on to new things.
Sauce has a very strong social media presence with approximately 125,000 followers across all platforms, including over 52,000 Twitter followers. As part of our online efforts, our social media team curates hockey-related content and posts it throughout the day.
One afternoon a couple weeks ago my cell phone and Twitter feed began blowing up. I soon learned that we had re-tweeted an offensive Internet meme comparing an NHL team's locker room to a, for lack of a better term, transgender bathroom.
The online response to the tweet was swift. We received a considerable amount of negative feedback and messages from people who were understandably offended. At the end of the day our Twitter feed had generated around 1.5 million impressions. This was more than 20 times its daily level.
As noted in a conversation with Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler (more on that conversation below), we weren't sure how to initially respond. We obviously knew a mistake had been made. We immediately removed the offensive post. We made multiple public apologies on Twitter. And we responded individually to every single person that reached out to us.
Of course, we knew we needed to more, but weren't sure what that more was.
We began by reaching out to Patrick Burke. Patrick works at the NHL and co-founded the You Can Play project. We had a healthy back and forth. He introduced us to Chris Mosier. (For those of you who not already familiar with Chris, he's the first transgender athlete to earn a spot on a U.S. mens national team). He's an amazing athlete and a groundbreaking force in broadening the acceptance of transgender athletes on the world stage.
Despite being in the midst of preparing for the World Duathlon Championships that take place in Spain this weekend, Chris was kind enough to take some time to speak with us. He offered some thoughtful ideas on how we might consider learning from our mistake and evolving as an organization. We are implementing a number of his suggestions and hope to have further conversations with him.
When I reached out to Zeigler, he began by delivering some well-deserved tough love—what the hell were we thinking? He listened to our plans to turn the negativity surrounding the tweet into a long-term positive and turning our company into an ally of the LGBT community—particularly in our niche of hockey and athletics.
While I wish we could go back in time and take back the insensitive retweet, we can't. The retweet was posted. And the company (and me in particular as the person in charge) accepts full responsibility for it. We apologize unequivocally.
While we can't take it back, what we can do is recognize and acknowledge our mistake and do our best to make it right going forward.
This is exactly what we intend to do.
The conversations outlined above, along with others we've had internally and externally, have led us to develop a plan we are calling "Breaking Out." The phrase is a play on coming out and the hockey expression "break out," which means transitioning out of the defense zone, into the neutral zone and eventually to offense.
We intend to become a company that is on the offense in promoting LGBT rights.
The first portion of our Breaking Out plan is internally focused. For starters, we are implementing explicit HR policies to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. This will be augmented by company-wide sensitivity training. Finally, we will be adopting healthcare coverage that ensures gender-transition-related coverage and corporate policies that specifically protect gender identity and expression.
The next portion of the Breaking Out plan is externally focused and will be executed in the coming months and year. For starters, we intend to make donations to You Can Play and Trans*Athlete. Individuals at both organizations have taken time out from their busy schedules to both educate and help us plan a path forward.
Second, we hope to create an ongoing sponsorship with both a transgender athlete and an LGBT hockey team.
Third, we intend to be very active and vocal during Pride Month and will be collaborating with Pride Tape (a non-profit that sells rainbow-colored hockey tape) on a series of giveaways.
Finally, we'd like to add LGBT division to our annual Sauce Cup hockey tournament that occurs in Arizona every year.
We understand that respect isn't bought, it is earned. We also know that we have probably alienated some former Sauce fans who may never come back. Protecting and promoting the rights of minorities isn't a conservative thing, a liberal thing, or a hockey thing—it's simply the right thing to do. As a growing company with a large social-media platform, we take this responsibility very seriously.
Again, we apologize for this offensive tweet. We are committed to making this right. And we hope to win your trust back in the months and years to come.