Saturday, 4 January 2020

You Can't Say That On Television

For those in the Winnipeg Jets' region of the world, TSN carries all of the regionally-broadcast games for the Winnipeg Jets. The colour analyst for these broadcasts is former Spokane Chief and NHLer Kevin Sawyer. Sawyer, who played just 18 games in the BCJHL before graduating to the WHL, logged 176 games for the Chiefs in the WHL with most of those playing minutes spent either on the bench or in the penalty box. As seen on the lede image, Sawyer was an enforcer for the club before returning after his playing days ended as an assistant coach in 2005 as the second man to head coach Bill Peters.

That last statement may raise eyebrows after what went down with Bill Peters in the NHL during his head coaching stint in Carolina, but there have been very few comments on how Bill Peters ran his team while he was in Spokane. After spending a year at the University of Lethbridge, Peters returned to Spokane and hired Sawyer as his assistant coach, making him first former Chiefs player to return to the team as a full-time coach.

Everything during his time in Spokane seemed rather innocuous as Sawyer spent two years behind the bench with Peters before resigning in 2006 for "issues unrelated to hockey". I'll give Sawyer the benefit of the doubt by saying that family should be one's priority in life, so what he said today on today's broadcast of the game between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild comes as across as both shocking and unacceptable.
Wait, what?!? Kevin Sawyer just admitted to hazing a youth hockey player on TSN for everyone to hear like it's no big deal!

Let me repeat what I wrote above in a different context: in 2005, as an assistant coach of the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, Kevin Sawyer either was aware of or participated in the saran-wrapping of 15 year-old rookie defenceman Jared Spurgeon to a pillar in Spokane Arena some six-feet off the ground. Most coaches would categorically deny any knowledge of hazing or activities resembling hazing, yet Kevin Sawyer just threw the entire team, Bill Peters, and the Spokane Chiefs organization under the bus when it comes to questionable activities like saran-wrapping a 15 year-old to a pillar six-feet off the ground.

You might ask why this would put all of the team, Peters, and the organization under the microscope. I'll break this down into three parts:
  1. If Sawyer was the assistant coach, he didn't stop this activity from happening, meaning that he allowed a hazing incident performed by the players of the Chiefs on a minor - Spurgeon was 15 years-old! - without intervening. That's Strike 1.
  2. If Sawyer, as the assistant coach, was aware of Spurgeon being targeted for a hazing incident, it's not a stretch to say that head coach Bill Peters was also aware of this happening. Peters, as we've seen in his time with the Hurricanes, engaged in questionable behaviour as a head coach, so there's no reason to believe that he had no knowledge of Spurgeon being hazed nor is there any evidence of him punishing those who committed the acts of hazing. He's complicit in this whether he likes it or not as it's his team and his coach who did or allowed the hazing. Strike 2 has been called.
  3. The Spokane Chiefs are also complicit in this act of hazing as there seemingly was no punishment for anyone under their watch. It's likely that the story of Spurgeon being saran-wrapped to the pillar in the rink made its rounds of the arena, so it simply isn't plausible that the management of the Spokane Chiefs weren't aware of this incident. That's Strike 3.
I can hear people already murmuring that 2005 was a long time ago and that times have changed and how "boys will be boys," but just because you or I don't feel there's a problem doesn't mean that 15 year-old Jared Spurgeon was ok with this incident. To make matters worse, the people that Spurgeon was asked to entrust with his safety on this team in his head coach and assistant coach are involved in the hazing incident. If you're Jared Spurgeon, what options do you have even if you felt uncomfortable with this?

The answer is none, and that's why this hazing admission by Sawyer on television is so damning. I don't want to hear the excuses of "well, it happened to me" because letting it happen over and over and over again doesn't make it right. It just perpetuates generations of hazing incidents that need to stop. Humiliation and disrespect are at the heart of hazing incidents, and hanging a 15 year-old kid six-feet off the ground by saran-wrapping him to a pillar is both humiliating and disrespectful.

As for Kevin Sawyer, I would expect him to make a formal apology to Jared Spurgeon for his actions and to anyone else who has endured similar acts of hazing under his watch or through his participation. I'll let TSN decide what to do with Sawyer regarding his employment after making this admission on television, but if we follow the trend in the sports world regarding those who have been involved with hazing incidents a suspension would be the bare minimum punishment faced while outright dismissal seems like the more common approach by teams dealing with people embroiled in these incidents.

Nothing seemed to go right for the Jets today in Minnesota, but it was nothing compared to the quagmire that happened in the broadcast booth. Here's hoping that the Jets, TSN, and Kevin Sawyer can find an appropriate way to resolve this matter, especially when it comes to an apology to any and all players who may have been subjected to incidents while Sawyer was a coach in the WHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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