TORONTO (Feb. 22) — It was nothing short of a disgusting, demeaning reply… and O–Dog should pay the price.
During Tuesday afternoon’s edition of Overdrive across the TSN radio and television networks, Jeff O’Neill joined host Bryan Hayes and co–host Dave Feschuk (of the Toronto Star) in a discussion about the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were embarrassed in Montreal on Monday night, losing 5–2 to the National Hockey League’s worst club.
O’Neill has never shrouded his man–crush on TSN’s “home” team; who can forget the sorry spectacle of O–Dog pumping his fist and exclaiming “Yes!!!” when the Leafs won the 2016 NHL draft lottery and the right to select Auston Matthews first overall? But, his response to an argument posed by Johnson on Tuesday was altogether different. As Johnson deployed an advanced metric to show that the Leafs No. 1 defense unit of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie may not be as solid as the adoring Toronto media suggests, O’Neill interrupted rather boorishly.
“I’m sorry, Johnny, I’m not buying it… you can shove that stat right up your ass,” he said, talking over the telephone guest. Hayes and Feschuk, without time to process the remark, laughed obligingly, while Johnson was stopped in his tracks. After a moment of awkward silence, Hayes said “go ahead, Johnny”, at which point Johnson finished his argument. Now, I’ve been around sports long enough to know that professional athletes — past and present — are fond of sailor talk. When the boys get together, nary a sentence passes without an f–bomb or other pleasantries dotting the discussion. That’s all well and good. But, on a national network governed by the Canadian Radio/Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), it is highly inappropriate to tell a colleague (or any person) to shove something up his ass. That’s Internet and Satellite speak; not the sort of remark an impressionable youngster should be exposed to on a cable network that appears in millions of homes across the country.
Whether or not O’Neill understands, there is a difference between Spittin’ Chiclets and TSN Overdrive.
In this case, the remark went beyond a mere cuss word. It was a, repulsive, low–ball insult to an exceptionally fine hockey analyst and co–worker. And, entirely uncalled for. O’Neill, to his credit, has fashioned a solid media career after scoring 237 NHL goals for Hartford/Carolina and Toronto between 1995–96 and 2006–07. Though largely placid on the ice, he has morphed into the tough guy on radio and TV, speaking irreverently about virtually every topic. Such candor in today’s submissive media climate has made him a refreshing subject. But, he does tend to cross the line, as he clearly (and gracelessly) did with Johnson. You’ve got to know that this is nothing personal; in fact, I had an excellent rapport with O’Neill in my radio reporting role at The FAN–590 during his two seasons with the Maple Leafs (2005–07). Jeff was unfailingly cooperative, humorous and self–effacing. I liked him… a lot.
But, when the lights go up each afternoon in the TSN studio, or from his home studio during COVID, he is no longer in a dressing room. The CRTC has mandated a level of decorum long before Jeff appeared on the scene. That decree was rolled upon when O’Neill told Johnson to shove the stat up his ass. Neither was it a remark. I suspect, that the prime Overdrive sponsor, Pinty’s Food Inc., would applaud. As such, if I were TSN president Stewart Johnston, I would suspend O’Neill without pay from the TV and radio networks for one week.
I’d make him watch a replay of the utter disrespect he showed toward Mike Johnson.
A dose of humility never hurts.