(Writer’s note: My most trusted young folks tell me I need to promote my work. So, heeding their instructions, if you like my stuff, please click follow in the lower, right-hand corner of this page and, if you are so inclined, please follow me @thebeckerfiles and retweet my messages on Twitter when I post a piece. Thanks. Now, on to the story.)
I could not stop watching Rogers Sportsnet on Thursday afternoon and into night, not for what was on but what wasn’t.
On the usually newsy Sportsnet 360 channel, during six straight hours of live radio on television, I did not hear one sentence on the talk shows about the report of a rape allegation against hockey star Patrick Kane in suburban Buffalo.
That’s the $5.2 billion question.
I first noticed the story at around 1 p.m. EDT, while checking in with the various Canadian and U.S. sports sites I frequent.
It was in all the headlines – TSN, CBC Sports, NBC Sports and Sportsnet – on the sites of TV networks that broadcast NHL games.
All but Sportsnet led with the nature of the allegation – using the term rape or sexual assault. The Sportsnet site appeared frozen in time, hour after hour, with an item posted at 9:35 a.m., a few paragraphs saying only that Kane was under investigation for something. That’s it.
Every story was based on a report in the Buffalo News, attributed to two unidentified law enforcement sources.
As the day went on, both the NHL and Kane’s team, the Chicago Blackhawks, issued statements saying they were aware of the matter and looking into it.
I hate stories based on anonymous sources. Don’t trust them. Never have. Never will.
And I especially hate stories that inevitably brand a person for life, even if the allegation proves false.
That said, news and sports outlets rush into print and on the air with just about anything these days. And I know from watching Sportsnet and reading its site that it is similarly eager to run with rumors and speculation, every tweet and piece of unattributed slop.
But, all afternoon and into the night, its “news” ticker at the bottom of the screen read: “Report: Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane is subject of police investigation according to the Buffalo News.”
From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., on the popular Bob McCown show – his co-host was one of Sportsnet’s ace NHL reporters, Elliotte Friedman – there was tons of Blue Jays talk with detours into golf and the CFL, which was touting a new policy to combat violence against women.
Kane was almost mentioned in the opening segment, when the hosts in the Toronto studio were chatting about sports movies with Richard Deitsch, the Sports Illustrated media writer in New York.
During a pause in the movie tangent, Deitsch asked: “What’s the big news of the day?”
“Well, the Pat …” McCown said before Deitsch chimed in to relay a movie reference from his Twitter feed.
McCown, never shy about thumbing his nose at this employer, may have been about to say Pat…rick Kane. We’ll never know.
On the hourly sports updates during the show – always primarily promos for Sportsnet programming – the smiling young man on camera said in the final item: “Patrick Kane is the subject of a police investigation involving another woman” – another woman? – “near Buffalo. Keep your eye on the ticker for all the latest.” Good luck.
When the network’s nightly wrapup show, Sportsnet Central, finally aired – after the Jays-Twins game — its first 20 minutes or so was devoted to Jays, Jays, Jays, baseball, baseball, baseball, before presenting the Kane story in fewer than 30 seconds. The anchor did utter the words “sexual assault” at 10:10 p.m.
Meanwhile, TSN had led its 6 p.m. edition of SportsCentre with the rape allegation against Kane, throwing to a reporter it sent to the player’s off-season home, Hamburg, N.Y.
It was also the lead story on the CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates in Buffalo.
So why not on Rogers? Could it be the network owned by the media goliath is simply obsessed with the recent success of the baseball team it owns, which plays in the stadium it owns?
Or could it have something to do with the $5.232 billion it paid the NHL for a broadcast contract that kicked in last fall and runs through the end of the 2026 hockey season?
Robert Lipsyte, the former New York Times columnist who served as ombudsman for ESPN until the end of last year, expressed concern with editorial judgment being skewed by the relationships between sports networks and the leagues they broadcast.
“In recent years, ESPN’s journalistic integrity has taken hits for its perceived slow response to stories that reflected poorly on business partners,” he wrote in his final column as ombudsman last December.
“One thing I’ve come to recognize in the past 18 months is the constant tug between honest journalism and practical business dealings.”
Anyone who pays attention to such issues knows business trumps honest sports journalism on both sides of the border.