The Thought Police Come for NBC and the NHL


The thought police swooped down in the most unlikely of venues recently- the National Hockey League.  As some may be aware, the NHL resumed play where certain teams with the “best” records at the pause of the season were invited to two hub cities to play a tournament that would determine the Stanley Cup champion.  Those cities are Toronto in the east and Edmonton in the west.  As of this writing, they are moving into the second of four rounds of play.  Some of the big names in hockey like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are now gone, their teams having been eliminated.  Last year’s champion, the St. Louis Blues, have also been eliminated.

All the games are being telecast on the NBC network- either their national telecast, NBC SportsNet, or the USA network.  It is very interesting how the NHL has responded to the coronavirus hysteria.  To date, every player is tested every day and to date there has not been one positive test.  Locker rooms are sanitized during each period of play while the players are on the ice.  After each game, they are again sanitized.  They are permitted to eat in only certain places that practice social distancing.

At the end of a playoff series, it is tradition for both teams to form a line and shake hands.  Initially, they were told to do fist or elbow bumps and to keep their gloves on.  The protocols have been so successful that they are now permitted to actually shake hands without gloves.  It makes logical sense since for 60 minutes, sweaty bodies are slamming into one another.

Luckily, for the early round of play- since I am a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan- I was privy to a local “simulcast” using the Flyers TV announcers.  They were not permitted to go to Toronto, so they “watched” the game and narrated from Philadelphia.  Henceforth, I will have to endure the national telecasts and their announcers.

As part of the agreement to resume play, each team was permitted so many players and staff to travel to the hub cities.  Families were not permitted to tag along.  Of course, there are no fans in the stands, but NBC does a decent job of providing the background crowd noise.  Still to be worked out, since the players want it, is whether families will be permitted to join their player husbands when the next round of play moves exclusively to Edmonton.

Which brings us to the thought police.  During a telecast this past Thursday, John Forslund- a play-by-play announcer- was discussing the success of the protocols and the advantages of “being in the bubble.”  Mike Milbury, a former Boston Bruins defenseman and booth analyst.  Forslund was noting that it was a “terrific environment” for the players to bond with their teammates and focus on the game of hockey.

That is when Mike Milbury chimed in with these verboten, “controversial” words:

Not even any woman here to disrupt your concentration.

Reaction was swift as the thought police jumped into their Twitter squad cars with sirens blazing to call out Mike Milbury for his obvious sexist and “insensitive” comment.  The implications were obvious with his comment:  Mike Milbury was a misogynist, sexist pig who was objectifying women and implying there were no women in the NHL bubble (obviously there are; one of their booth analysts in games is a woman hockey player for Team USA).

Upon being booked by the Twitterati, Milbury was forced to explain himself and serve the sentence of public apology and humiliation:

I sincerely apologize for making the comment. I was trying to be irreverent and took it a step too far. It was a regrettable mistake that I take seriously.

Milbury was basically forced to apologize for the comment after the comment went “viral” on social media and the NHL released this statement:

The National Hockey League condemns the insulting and insensitive comment that Mike Milbury made during last night’s broadcast and we have communicated our feelings to NBC.  The comment did not reflect the NHL’s values and commitment to making our game more inclusive and welcoming to all. [Emphasis mine]

“Condemns,” I tell ya!  “Insulting…insensitive…”  In short, the NHL folded like a weak house of cards before the mob.  But let’s think about the comment.  If Milbury had said, “Yes- and there are no distractions like families and kids here,” would that have been any different from what he said?  But because he said “women,” the ears perked up and the fingers went to work on Twitter and other social media.

Personally, I do not really like Mike Milbury.  He looks like one of those kids who bullied others on the playground, then went crying to mommy when someone stood up to him.  He is somewhat slanted in his coverage on telecasts and you can tell he has his favorite and not-so-favorite teams (loves the Boston Bruins since he played for them).  When Flyers goalie Carter Hart was posting back-to-back shutouts against Montreal, Milbury sung the praises of Montreal goalie Carey Price.

Despite my personal feelings of Milbury, a misspoken observation whether trying to be “irreverent” or not was blown completely out of proportion by the social media mob.  The original comment was about team bonding under the unusual circumstances of the coronavirus protocols.  There are no women on the teams as players or coaches.  There may be women in front offices and there are certainly women reporters covering the NHL playoffs, but they are not part of the team.

Was the comment boorish?  Meh… Was it, as some have said, “1960’s-ish?”  Possibly.  Was it “insulting” and “insensitive?”  Only to the triggered who seem hard-wired to seek out innocuous comments- in this case, nine words- uttered during a three-hour telecast of a hockey game with low ratings.

But look on the bright side: at least Mike Milbury has not been sent to the diversity training re-education gulag… yet.