Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are different. Never mind the fact that it’s August and the 2020 season is still happening. With no fans and players needing to stay in a bubble without families or any real separation from their opponents, this was bound to have a completely new and interesting vibe than seasons past.
One thing that has not changed, but has instead been fueled by these unusual circumstances, is Mike Milbury’s seemingly unquenchable thirst to say stupid things on the air. A Bruins defenseman who spent most of his playing career in the penalty box, Milbury is most famous for beating a fan with a shoe during a brawl at MSG and then completely destroying the New York Islanders during his tenure as GM.
Go ahead and google the phrase “Mike Milbury comments” and you’ll get pages and pages of unique results showcasing the NBC analyst’s history of outlandish comments regarding the game of hockey. His adherence to the old ways of how sports should be played and watched has not made our viewing of games on NBC Sports any better, but it does remind us all that there’s still not enough being done to root out the voices and ideas that are keeping hockey from truly being for everyone.
If you narrow that down to just this year’s Return to Play, Milbury has denigrated women’s hockey, minimized serious injuries of players, and called out another player for his decision to leave the bubble to be with his family. His latest “hot take” may be the worst, as he mentioned the bubble is great for players since there’s “not any woman here to disrupt your concentration.” This reductive and insulting remark not only ignores the presence of women working with and covering each team, but it also completely undermines all the tremendously hard work they’ve done to make this playoffs a reality. At this point, it’s become ridiculous that NBC has not taken any kind of action against Milbury, or at the very least made some kind of statement regarding his consistently insensitive remarks.
NBC has fired hockey analysts before. Jeremy Roenick got the ax earlier in the season after his appearance on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast where he made disgusting remarks about his co-host Kathryn Tappen. NBC took swift action that time, but some would (wrongly) argue that Milbury’s actions aren’t nearly as reprehensible. By doing nothing, the network is showing that the hockey world still has a place for exclusionary behavior and rhetoric despite the NHL and other sports leagues trying very hard to show that they’re trying to change.
The hockey world was shocked when longtime Canadian hockey analyst Don Cherry (Milbury’s former coach) was finally fired for his ignorant remarks on air, but really it should have happened well before it actually did. Co-host Don MacLean and others at Sportsnet created a safe environment for Cherry to say whatever he wanted, and then didn’t do anything about it until they couldn’t explain his comments under the rug. They will have that black mark on their history for a long time.
NBC is doing the same thing with Mike Milbury that Sportsnet did with Cherry and I do not want to see what line has to crossed before there’s any real consequences. Does he need to be fired? Not necessarily. I think the very least that NBC should do (and should have done before) is acknowledge how Milbury’s comments are unacceptable, then make him acknowledge it himself on air during a broadcast. After that, it’s a short leash he must walk on if he wants to keep his job. By ignoring Milbury’s comments, his coworkers, especially the ones on air, are creating a spotlight for Milbury’s ignorance and prejudice that’s disappointingly similar to the one his neighbor to the North shared for so long.
I’m heartened to see the very loud and clear backlash from the hockey community today towards Milbury, but nothing is going to change until the NHL and NBC draw the line and stop allowing ignorant crap like this to be featured on their broadcasts.
I’ll leave you with a tweet from Becca Elliott, the Director of Digital and Fan Experience for the Seattle Kraken, that I think sums it up best. Hockey at the end of the day is a business that’s staffed by professionals. If Mike Milbury and others are unable to be professional as well, then it’s time to go.
Women are reduced to “distractions” from the time we enter school – our shorts are “too short,” our shoulders “too exposed” for the boys to be able to concentrate.
Women working in sports are doing just that: working. We are not distractions, we’re professionals. https://t.co/iQKU49mkNQ
— Becca Elliott (@beccaelliott) August 21, 2020
(Image by Xnatedawgx – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47575398)