Cancel vs. Consequence in the Sports Industry - Work In Sports podcast

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp VP of Content and Engaged Learning at and this is the Work In Sports podcast.

So, I want to rant for a little bit - it’s my show, I get the soapbox and I’m deciding to use it. 

There is so much anger and division on cancel vs. consequence, and I want to try and have a meaningful conversation with you through the lens of Mike Milbury’s recent comments on the NHL on NBC Stanley Cup Playoff coverage. 

For those of you not in the know, during a recent game Milbury and analyst Brian Boucher were discussing the benefits of the NHL's playoff bubble.



Boucher: "If you think about it, it's a terrific environment with regard to -- if you enjoy playing and enjoy being with your teammates for long periods of time, it's a perfect place," Boucher said.

And then Milbury added: "Not even any woman here to disrupt your concentration,"

Since the comment, Milbury has announced that he will not be part of NBC Sports' broadcasts 

"In light of the attention caused by my recent remark, I have decided to step away from my role at NBC Sports for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs," the 68-year-old Milbury said in a statement released Saturday.

"I do not want my presence to interfere with the athletes as they try to win the greatest trophy in sports.”

There was and is outrage on both sides of the subject -- some say it’s an overreaction, and Milbury’s comments were just the truth and this is another example of cancel culture. 

Others say this is the same tired cliches minimizing women, their impact and value, degrading them to a distraction and fodder for men to ogle at...and that this is an example of there being consequences because words matter, and what you say matters.  

Let me start by saying this -- analysts have a tough job of trying to speak off the cuff in a fast-paced game and when they try to be irreverent, get off-topic, play for a laugh line, or teeter out of their lane -- things get out of control fast.  

But, the best at it, don’t seem to run into this problem -- because they have focus and they know their job is to talk about the game in front of them, not seek out high fives from adoring fans who think they are witty and on the edge.  

Let’s get into the comment itself in the most simple way possible --  is it fair? or is it cliche? 

Look, I’m a white straight married male, the most privileged class in our society, and I’m so fricking tired of the stupid, old, cliched tropes like this toward women. This is the most banal, boring observation about the human condition -- women are a distraction and men are just prey to their seductiveness.

This is the slippery slope of irreverent commentary -- it may look harmless or funny to some when isolated -- “ah, what he said wasn’t so bad, loosen up!”   But put it in context, weigh it down with the history of misogyny, put yourself in someone else’s shoes who has battled inequality and hasn’t been fed privilege throughout their life… and maybe you’ll hear things differently.

To be honest, I’d be offended if I was on either side of this narrative -- of course, it’s more insulting to women, who surely don’t deserve to be relegated to “distraction”. But if I was a player, in the frickin Stanley Cup finals, and some dude was assuming I couldn’t hold my focus and concentration because a woman, or women, or my wife or my partner or girlfriend was in the bubble -- I’d be like “how simple do you think I am? I can’t prioritize this moment? I don’t value my teammates enough to perform at my best? I can’t willfully decide to focus?”

And to put this burden on any woman, that just their mere existence inside the bubble could shift the power axis out of orbit.  

If I was a woman, and I heard this quote it’s like “rewind and repeat the same old junk about how we aren’t value adds to this equation… just a distraction.” 

Let’s get real here -- 

Do you know how many women came to me during my career as a news director to complain about the derogatory, sexist, aggressive actions of a male co-worker? 

I can think of 5 times off the top of my head, that’s 5 times a woman felt threatened or minimized enough to come tell their male boss, that things were out of control and I needed to step in and do something. And before you say 5 doesn’t sound like too many -- for one, you are wrong, 5 times in a staff of 40 people is a ton over a few years is a ton, and also that likely means three were multiple other incidents that never found their way to my desk. 

The stories these women told me were horrifying and I personally escalated to the proper authority figures within our operation. 

And guess what, they got squashed right there. My organization failed these women. 

The males would have to take sensitivity training or get some simple slap on the wrist, but nothing meaningful changed… but the women, those brave women who reported the injustices, would be shunned. They wouldn’t be as visible and welcomed into the newsroom banter, they wouldn’t be considered “part of the group” anymore.

It was really sad. 

So for all of you who hear someone like Mike Milbury doing the old “women are a distraction to men” narrative and think to yourself, come on stop being so serious, women are a distraction! What he said is no big deal, you are just looking for things to be upset about… that is what people with privilege say. 

That is what people who don’t have to suffer through animus and hostile work environments would say -- of course, it’s no big deal to you, the narrative doesn’t affect you. 

So let’s play this out -- let’s say you are a player, and your wife or girlfriend works for a teamor the league offices? She shouldn’t be allowed in the bubble to do her job, because she could be a distraction? Wow… how selfish is that?! How insulting is that?

There is a growing group of people in the #sportsbiz led by Sydney Large - who I am trying to get on the podcast someday soon -- her group is titled “Support Women in Sports” and I’ll be honest, at first I saw her cause and thought -- is this necessary? Seems like there are more women working in sports than ever before? 

But things like this happen, and hundreds of men come to Milbury’s rescue to claim cancel culture taking another victim, and treat him as if he is the aggrieved party here and I’m reminded of how little we’ve changed since those women came to my office afraid and insulted two decades ago.

We can do better. 

Hire more women in sports. Protect their work environment. Listen to their perspective and vision for your organization. Let them in the bubble -- and you know what, if the men can’t control themselves and they lose their Stanley Cup game because two X chromosomes are nearby, then that is a bigger commentary on THEIR failures, not the women.

Alright, that’ll wrap up this show -- as always if you have thoughts or comments please share it on our private Facebook group -- you can join by going to Facebook and searching for the work in sports podcast -- answer a few quick questions and I’ll let you in so you can share your thoughts!

And thanks as always for subscribing and reviewing our podcast -- coming up on Wednesday Shahbaz Khan, director of digital content for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx -- until then keep your mask on and if you see me in public, stay 6 feet away… 

By Brian Clapp | August 24, 2020
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