Joe Thornton Joke Sparks Player-Media Controversy
Joe Thornton's off the record joke sparks a controversy. (Photo: Reuters)
A big story this week was the four goal performance by rookie sensation Tomas Hertl. Yet, it wasn't the amount of goals that left people talking the next, but the way he scored the fourth one. With the San Jose Sharks already up 7-2, Hertl came in on net and put the goal between his legs for a highlight reel goal. This caused some old school thinking ex-players to speak out against the so-called "hot dog" move, and media members began to ask him about it leading up to the game in Vancouver.
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But that's when things got a little crazy. Joe Thornton overheard the line of questioning and interrupted the media scrum to say "shut up, have you ever played the game?". He then joked that, ""I'd have my **** out if I scored four goals. I'd have my **** out, stroking it."
It's not uncommon to have players making off-color comments in the locker room. It is after all a sacred place for players to be themselves. What is uncommon is that we are privy to this joke in the first place.
Why do we know about it? Because Jason Botchford of The Province decided to stick up for his media pals and throw Joe Thornton under the bus by publishing it on the newspaper blog.
According to those in the media, the only time players are "on the record" in the locker room is when they have a microphone in front of them in a scrum or one-on-one. Anything that gets said outside of those parameters loosely qualifies as "off the record".
This created a firestorm debate about player-media relations and whether or not these kind of comments are fair ground to be published. Some in favor are arguing that we live in different time where cameras and recording devices can be found anywhere. Greg Wyshnynski, otherwise known as Puck Daddy, said, "Realistically, he was doing his job, even if it meant breaking a reporter/athlete taboo."
Puck Daddy tried to speak out of both sides of his mouth by stating "Ethically, Botchford was wrong, given the history of these types of moments."
So which is it? As a blogger, Wyshnynski doesn't seem to share the overwhelming sentiment that this joke should not have been published. National hockey writer Pierre Lebrun said that he would not have reported the comment by Thornton, and he said it while Jason Botchford was on the air with him on TSN. Jamie McLennan and Mike Johnson, two former players who now do analysis on TSN, also said that Botchford crossed the line.
Jason Botchford had the following response,
"First and foremost, because I work for a publication that asks me to think , write and report with edge, and that's what I think I did today."
"The problem here for Joe is that he said the comment to about 20 reporters. I looked around, about half of them had cameras. If any of them had reported it, and I had not, I would have been called to the carpet by my boss and asked why I didn't publish one of the quotes of the year."
The issue with Botchford's reasoning is that among those "20 reporters", he was the only one to publish it. His publication, The Vancouver Province, has been in this business for decades. To say that the newspaper would have had a problem with him not publishing this joke is, well, a joke in itself. What we have here is a rogue reporter who used poor judgment. If he was acting professionally, he would have asked Joe if he could quote him on that. Clearly Thornton would have said "no".
So where does this go from here? My first thought is whether or not players are going to even talk to Jason Botchford after this. In fact, I'm surprised that he still has a job after that. But more importantly, what will this do to player-media relations? Will young players be more reluctant to open up around reporters? Will more media members feel obligated, or entitled, to publish more "off the record" comments?
We can only hope that this was an isolated incident because at the end of the day it is the fan who would suffer. As entertaining as the quote was, it was reported in bad faith and crossed an ethical line.