The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has concluded that comments made by former Sportsnet panelist Brian Burke breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code during Game 7 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs last fall.
The CBSC decision concerns the Sept. 4, 2020 broadcast of the Dallas Stars-Colorado Avalanche matchup on Sportsnet West.
During the game, Burke was asked what he thought about the Avalanche’s “lack of killer instinct” when they had the lead. He 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 subsequently complained that the comment promoted hate and violence because it indirectly referenced the May 2020 death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Sportsnet argued that the phrase used by Burke was common in the context of sports and, in this case, used metaphorically towards the hockey team under discussion. While acknowledging Burke had made an unfortunate choice of words, the network did not believe the comments 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. It unanimously concluded that the comment breached Article 1.0 of the code with the expression “put a boot on their throat and put your full body weight on it” 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 also unanimously concluded 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.
Burke, 65, left his panelist job at Sportsnet earlier this month to become the new president of hockey operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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