Sports inclusion advocate says HNIC host Ron MacLean apologized for on-air comment

An LGBTQ+ advocacy organization says Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean has apologized for comments he made on-air Tuesday night that many have interpreted as homophobic.

David Palumbo, vice-chair of You Can Play, which promotes inclusion in sports, said he spoke with MacLean Wednesday morning and said the 61-year-old broadcaster “was apologetic and took ownership of [what he said.”]

During the second intermission of the nationally televised broadcast of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens playoff game Tuesday, MacLean made an apparent reference to a picture of a shirtless man to analyst and former NHL player Kevin Bieksa.

“You have a photo of a guy with his tarp off, you’re definitely positive for something,” MacLean said on the broadcast which aired CBC and is produced by Rogers Sportsnet.

Reaction was swift and harsh on social media, with many calling for MacLean to be fired. MacLean and Sportsnet have not responded to requests for comment and CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson referred all queries to Sportsnet.

WATCH | Ron MacLean under fire following Tuesday’s on-air comments:

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean is being accused of making a homophobic remark during the Toronto-Montreal broadcast on Tuesday night. 1:23

Palumbo said he’s known MacLean for a long time and believes he’s sincere in his wanting to be better with his language on air. 

“I take him at his word. I’ve always known Ron to be a staunch ally when it comes to his historic support of the LGBTQ+ community. It was a good conversation,” Palumbo said. “To his credit he reached out and took full ownership of what he said and that interaction. He provided some extra context to the comment and what was behind the comment.

“We then discussed the concept of language outside of two-way communication and between two parties and how that can be interpreted outside of the parties.”

The furor comes 18 months after MacLean’s longtime friend and Coach’s Corner partner Don Cherry was fired for derogatory comments made toward immigrants.

During the Coach’s Corner Remembrance Day segment in November 2019, Cherry said of immigrants not wearing poppies: “You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that.”

MacLean apologized on-air during a broadcast the next day.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory and flat-out wrong … I sincerely apologize and I wanted to thank you [the audience] for calling me and Don out on that last night,” MacLean said.

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