A Winnipeg Jets broadcaster has apologized after telling a story on the air about plastic-wrapping a 15-year-old player to a pole while working as an assistant coach in the Western Hockey League.
“Favourite story of Jared Spurgeon,” Kevin Sawyer mused during a Jan. 4 TSN broadcast of the game between the Jets and Minnesota Wild. “He was a 15-year-old, two months in the season. We Saran-wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air.”
“He was so tiny. He looked like he was 12.”
At the time, in 2005, Spurgeon was a player with the Spokane Chiefs and Sawyer was his assistant coach. Spurgeon is now in his 10th season as a defenceman with the Wild.
In a minute-and-a-half-long apology at the start of TSN 3’s Jets broadcast Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sawyer said he was “truly sorry” for the comments.
“I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on my comments over the past couple of weeks, and I was insensitive in sharing a story that was inaccurate and should never have been told on television in the first place,” he said on camera in Raleigh, N.C.
The colour commentator said he was “unaware and had nothing to do with the 16th birthday recognition,” until everyone sang Happy Birthday to Spurgeon, who “appeared happy in that moment.”
“At that time I did not view it as a negative, harmful, or demeaning in any way, rather a celebration of an extremely popular and well-liked teammate. Now I understand that times have changed a lot over the past 15 years, and for the better. This is certainly something that I would never allow if I was coaching in the game today,” he said.
The comments come as hockey receives increasing scrutiny for hazing and bullying, with several high-profile cases in the last year involving the firing of coaches.
One of those fired coaches was the Calgary Flames’ Bill Peters, who was also the head coach of the Spokane Chiefs during the 2005 incident Sawyer spoke about.
Sawyer’s Jan. 4 comments received backlash on social media, including from former Winnipeg Jet Scott Campbell, who tweeted that Sawyer’s comments were “jaw-dropping.”
Kevin Sawyer, coach of the Spokane Chiefs, saran wrapped 15 year old Jared Spurgeon to a pole 6ft up in the air. <a href=”https://t.co/wmrgps1tIU”>pic.twitter.com/wmrgps1tIU</a>
I’ve critiqued Sawyer on a few of his ridiculous takes – actually asked that someone help him out. Today was jaw-dropping when I heard this. A story you tell in a bar with your old friends and shake your head at when you’ve had a few maybe, but not while you’re on tv. <a href=”https://t.co/pju9kBMGn6″>https://t.co/pju9kBMGn6</a>
I know “hazing” is something people did in the past and may not do anymore, however talking about it with seemingly happy thoughts on live TV is just plain stupid!!! 🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️
Sawyer said as a father of two teenagers, he understands “how important it is for for our kids to feel safe when they are in the care of others.”
“My comments were unprofessional, insensitive and may have sent the wrong message and for that I want to sincerely apologize to you, our viewers. I am truly sorry.”