Ottawa, February 17, 2021 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made during game 7 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sportsnet West on September 4, 2020. A colour commentator made a violent reference, which the CBSC concluded breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code.
During a game between the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche, commentator Brian Burke was asked what he thought about the Avalanche’s “lack of killer instinct” when they had the lead. Burke replied, “I thought when they went up 3-2 they got complacent. And when a team you’re playing is flat, that’s when you gotta put a boot on their throat and put your full body weight on it.” A viewer complained that this comment promoted hate and violence because it indirectly referenced the widely publicized death of George Floyd, which had occurred in May 2020. Floyd was a Black man who had died after a White police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck reportedly for over eight minutes.
Sportsnet argued that the phrase utilized by Mr. Burke was commonly used in the context of sports and, in this case, it was used metaphorically towards the hockey team under discussion. The station acknowledged that the comment was an unfortunate choice of words but did not believe that it had promoted violence or racism.
The CBSC’s English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the CAB Violence Code which prohibits the promotion, sanction or glamorization of violence in general, as well as the promotion or exploitation of violence in sports. While the Panel recognized the value of colour commentary during sports programming, it unanimously concluded that the comment breached Article 1.0 of the code. The Panel stated that the expression “put a boot on their throat and put your full body weight on it” was not commonly used in sports and that it “constitutes a graphic and violent act that could severely harm someone and even possibly lead to their death. This type of graphic, troubling and violent act should not be endorsed or promoted on air.” The majority of the Panel also found a breach of Article 10.1 regarding violence in sports because the act described “is clearly one that is not within the sanctioned limits of hockey. Even if understood as a metaphor, it promotes a level of aggression and violence that could be fatal and well exceeds the customary rough-and-tumble of a hockey game.” The Panel did, however, unanimously conclude that the comment did not amount to discrimination or promotion of violence against a racial group, since there was no direct mention of race or the George Floyd incident during the broadcast.
The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry. The CBSC currently administers 5 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence. Around 800 radio stations, satellite radio services, conventional and discretionary television services across Canada participate in the Council.
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All CBSC decisions, codes, and related information are available on the CBSC’s website. For more information, please visit www.cbsc.ca.