On Commentary and Conflicts

On Commentary and Conflicts


On Commentary and Conflicts

It seems like no matter where you look there’s some kind of nonsense on or around hockey twitter. It’s mostly related to analytics and its detractors, but the nonsense doesn’t go away. Last week was a big old brouhaha between Oilers bloggers and Edmonton media, with opinions from all over the hockey world, regarding Kris Russell. For the record this site doesn’t take sides on Russell, but he really does need to get better at defending without blocking shots.

This past weekend, the nonsense came from elsewhere.

But first, some information: Cassie Campbell-Pascall is a 3-time Olympian (2G, 1S), a 7-time world medallist (6G,1S), an member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to women’s hockey as a player, broadcaster and role model. She was the first woman to do colour commentary on HNIC, way back in 2006, and has continued to work in that capacity on both national and local broadcasts. That she is married to Brad Pascall, the Calgary Flames assistant GM, is perhaps the least interesting thing about her but it became a hot-button issue over the weekend.

Ken Campbell (unrelated), of The Hockey News, commented on Campbell-Pascall’s position as the colour commentator on Hockey Night In Canada, and suggested in a now deleted tweet that it was inappropriate for her to be working the game because of her husband’s position with the team.

It’s not that Ken Campbell is wrong about potential conflicts of interest, but he was definitely wrong in choosing, for whatever reason, Campbell-Pascall’s relationship to be the one to finally say something about. It’s not as if the hockey community, especially at elite levels, is especially large and so it’s probably pretty difficult to find someone in the broadcast media who doesn’t have at least one close tie with an organization they’ll definitely be covering at some point in time.

For example:

There’s another Ken Campbell tweet about Ray Ferraro doing colour at his son Landon’s first game with the Bruins, but it is either gone or can’t be found.

In any case, the issue isn’t that Ken Campbell thought it necessary, on Saturday, to call out what he perceives to a conflict of interest between a broadcast crew and the team being covered. It’s that there have been many opportunities for himself and others to comment on incredibly similar ‘conflicts’ in the past, yet he has not only chosen to remain silent, he’s celebrated some of those so-called conflicts.

It’s hard to read into what he said and feel any kind of malicious intent; Ken Campbell did praise the work that Campbell-Pascall does in the booth and called her a professional. But to extend his comment to her relationship status, as if to suggest that as a professional she would be unable to keep her commentary neutral because her husband’s team was involved is absurd. The Flames were terrible on Saturday night, and it’s not like she was pumping their tires while they were losing 6-1.

The backlash that Ken Campbell received as a result of his ill-conceived tweet was swift and furious and forced him to not only delete the offending tweet, but to issue a statement of intent that did not at any point include an apology.

It’s wordy, but here it is:

The opportunity for reflection is an important one, and it matters that Ken Campbell felt that he needed to do some reflecting, but when he talks about having an inherent gender bias without really addressing what that means, it becomes a little hollow. See, the fact he chose the relationship between Campbell-Pascall and her husband as the one to nitpick about is not insignificant, and had he been consistently commenting on this issue of family relationships between broadcasters and teams there would be no problem with what he said.

Instead, a (presumably) innocuous statement revealed an awful lot about what hockey media and fans think about a fairly significant problem. that he doesn’t recognize gender bias for what it is IS the problem, and Ken Campbell isn’t the only one guilty of it.

What was a great opportunity for a long-established member of the hockey media to do some real reflecting and acknowledge that what he said does, in fact warrant an apology has now been turned into Ken Campbell along with a bunch of Spec’s hockey men congratulating themselves for addressing a problem without actually knowing what problem they’re addressing.

Malicious or not, that tweet unfairly targeted a member of a broadcast team who just happens to be different in every appreciable way from most other NHL broadcasters and called into question her integrity when her male counterparts have not (and won’t be) held to the same standard. It’s hard for women to be taken seriously in most part of sports media, and they are acutely aware that they have to be perfect or their contributions and knowledge and expertise will be called into question.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall does her job better than a lot of local crew colour commentators and should be commended for the work she has to do to be taken even half as seriously as male colleagues.

That Ken Campbell doesn’t recognize the real problem isn’t surprising, and neither was his response.

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