Mike Milbury’s Comments a Reminder of Where Hockey Must Still Change

Jim Neveau, Managing Editor

Throughout the history of sports, there has been one mantra that has largely been considered to be indispensable: “suck it up and be a man”. Those types of sayings, as well as demeaning others’ lack of machismo have been trash talk staples for many years, and despite the progress of women into being big-time athletes, the vestiges of these types of insults are still around.

One of the sports where toughness is a key virtue is the sport of hockey. Even though admiring guys for playing despite losing teeth and pints of blood is all well and good, there are plenty of areas that some fans and players venture into that aren’t so good. Players using foul words like “faggot” and other demeaning terms have been met with derision, but despite those responses to their inappropriate language, the issue keeps coming up.

It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever be rid of people calling Henrik and Daniel Sedin the “Sedin Sisters” anytime soon, but the possibility of getting the pundits and athletes in the sport to stop using derogatory terms is a useful goal, and one that several entities are working on. Perhaps one of the biggest proponents of acceptance of others has been the “You Can Play” initiative. Co-founded by Patrick Burke, whose father Brian is the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and whose brother Brendan was an openly gay advocate for equality in the sport before his tragic death, the program has drawn a ton of interest from players in the league, and a great series of ads has been cut pushing the program’s message of acceptance.

Mike Milbury's comments

You Can Play

Despite these types of positive steps forward, there are still steps back that have been taken. Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, scarcely a week after having a banana thrown at him in a racially charged incident in London, Ontario, was accused of calling Sean Avery a homophobic slur earlier this year. He wasn’t suspended or fined for the incident, but it once again opened up the debate as to how far the league should go in order to control the lengths to which players will trash-talk one another.

Another low came in the form of a statement made by NBC’s Mike Milbury on Monday morning. He was calling into a radio station in Philly to discuss the brawl between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, which saw coaches Peter LaViolette and Tony Granato standing on the half-boards and screaming at each other while commentator Pierre McGuire stood helplessly between them. The league ended up fining both coaches for the incident (which LaViolette was also ejected from the game for), but Milbury didn’t focus on that particular element of the story when he was being interviewed.

During one exchange, Milbury called Sidney Crosby “a little punk” and added that “he said after he came back from his ,ya-know, 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to get into these scrums, I’m going to stay away from that stuff. I’d say screw him, hit him whenever you get the opportunity.”

While calling for players to deliberately go after someone with a history of head injuries isn’t exactly the classiest way to conduct yourself, it doesn’t rise to the level of necessitating a redress of grievances. It’s simply going along with the toughness doctrine that guys like Milbury espouse. Where he truly went over the line in making his point was when he lobbed a couple of grenades at Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma:

“I can remember being on a such a perch, or at least trying to climb over the boards to get at somebody to make a point. And I thought Dan Bylsma should have took off his skirt and gone over there. I thought it was pathetic.”

The highlighted section of Milbury’s rant is exactly what is wrong with hockey and the other professional sports. Any time a guy needs to make a point that someone took a coward’s way out or didn’t stand up to fight, or does anything regarded as “unmanly”, it’s instantly met with derision and comparisons of those individuals to girls. Statements like this and others like when Dave Bolland called the Sedin twins “sisters” are still more commonplace than they should be, and it’s a damn shame that for the most part these incidents of questioning the manhood of others don’t get the negative coverage that they should.

Milbury is constantly at the center of various controversies, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he stepped in it once again in this circumstance. He tends to run his mouth faster than his mind can process the wisdom of his words, and while commentators like Johnny Miller in golf or Charles Barkley in basketball largely stay away from trouble by doing that, Milbury just can’t seem to figure out the difference between compelling television and looking like a complete buffoon and chauvinist.

Hockey Against Hate

Calling out someone’s manhood by resorting to gender-based attacks may be good fodder for the frat boy set and meathead fans, but it has no place coming out of the mouth of someone who is supposed to be covering the game of hockey for a living. Milbury is paid to be controversial, but there is a fine line that he has repeatedly crossed, and it’s about time that his bosses at his various network gigs called him out on it.

Simply put, the multiple networks that employ him need to take a stand and reiterate their commitment to making sure that hockey is as accepting a sport as possible, and to distance themselves from Milbury’s comments. His rant provided some good ratings for that radio station and definitely were in the spirit of what has become one of the league’s most heated rivalries, but they still were beyond what is acceptable in today’s society, and Milbury should be called to the carpet for it.

It is the hope of many, including the You Can Play group and other initiatives like Hockey Against Hate, that hockey will be a more accepting game. Milbury would be well-served to follow their example and to tone down his chauvinism and degrading attitude the  next time he decides to stir the pot.

James Neveau

James Neveau

James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site's NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.

29 Comments

  1.  The problem is that the league and the referees are impacted by these things. Case in point, Ron Maclean’s skewering of Burrow’s after the Auger incident. Since that time, other teams have had open season on the Canucks and most significantly the Sedin’s.

      Other teams consistently do things after the whistle to the Canucks without fear of a penalty, see Brad Marchand…”because I felt like it”. When Sedin asked the referee when he was going to call a penalty (after 5-6 punches to the face) he ended up with a 10 minute misconduct.

     Could this possibly happen to any other Art Ross trophy winner? The truth is, while the NHL tries to say they are trying to protect the players, they are not.

     Hockey is the only major sport where the rules change completely during the playoffs. Terms like “play through it”, “man up” and “more depth” are required to rationalize this phenomenon.  Teams with less skill usually win the Stanley Cup by pushing the envelope (do it 100 times if you’re only going to get called twice).

     In this case the referees should have called Crosby for slashing instead they did nothing and Schenn crosschecked Crosby setting off the fireworks.

     Just once I would love to have the refs have to answer the bell after the game to explain themselves. Imagine the questions? So, Dan how many times to you have to slash someone before it is a penalty? Is there a difference to you between a gloved punch and un-gloved? So why is Chara allowed to crosscheck someone in the back 4 times and when the player falls you call him for embellishment?

     If that happened, maybe the rules of the game would get enforced and we’d actually see 2 skilled teams in the Finals.   

  2. Hockey analyst are the last refreshing outlet in sports of “tell it like it is”.  I don’t know if punk is the right word, but it isn’t far off.  Crosby is very chippy and cries at the first sign of retaliation.  Gordie and Clarke were chippy , but they backed it up.  Crosby is a great player with no spine.  Eric Lindros would back up his infractions despite the concussion issues.
    Bottomline is either be great like Gretzky and get Lady Bing’s or back up your discretions without crying.

  3. Milbury hasn’t made an intelligent comment in years. Network execs think he adds something to their broadcast, but he doesn’t. These execs think we are all uneducated idiots like Milbury. We are not. We love listening to intelligent commentary – something that Milbury is incapable of.

    Get him off the air. He is an embarrassment to all hockey fams.

  4. Jonathanmarcb says:

    Not only did Milbury prove he’s a sexist, he proved he can’t function in the role of analyst.  You can’t root for one team and root against another when you’re supposed to be functioning as an analyst on a national broadcast.  I expect this kind of thing from a local Philly broadcast, but not from an “expert” national broadcaster.  NBC needs to go another direction.

  5. I think Milbury was right on and should not have taken any of it back , Crosby is a punk and I will cheer when his head gets pounded .  I will cheer for Philly with the hope that they do to Cindy what Scott Stevens did to Lindros .

  6. Yougottobekidding says:

    Last time I checked a coach can put whatever players he wants on the ice at anytime.  Vitale is a great player, he has skill and is fast.  Can’t believe The Broadstreet Bullies are crying over this.  Can’t believe Danny Briere is crying that Vitale wanted to hurt him.  If he wanted to hurt you Danny Boy he would of went for your head, but he did not , he is not that kind of player and the Pens are not that kind of team.  Somedays I wish they were, wish they would get a little more mad.  It was a clean shoulder to shoulder hit .. if it was a Pens player hit like that all the Flyers and their fans would be calling it a clean hit.  Get over yourselves.  Mike is only saying sorry to save his butt, he is just a nasty Anal-yst.  NBC do the right thing and fire him, Pens until they do keep NBC from getting interviews.

  7. I recently did an interview series with Patrick Burke and Tommy Wingels from the SJ Sharks and actually discussed with Patrick some ripple effects that You Can Play may have. One of the things Patrick and I discussed, as well as with Tommy, was the kind of Macho behavior stereotype in hockey. Not all players or coaches exhibit these behaviors, but hopefully, as projects like YCP begin to impact the way people speak and interact with one another when it comes to (in this case) homophobic slurs, it will make them more aware of other slurs they are using and cause them to stop using those as well.

  8. Milbury adds very little value as a hockey broadcaster, just like he added little as a hockey coach, gm, player.  He does do what NBC wants him to do, increase ratings, stir the pot. His comments were designed to increase rating for NBC sports for the the rest of the season and playoffs. NBC wants better ratings to sell more advertising. If you have a problem with Milbury, complain not to NBC, or the NHL, complain and boycott the advertisers of NBC. 

  9. it’s still the second best rivalry in the league at best.  Although, Pens fans and Philly fans could easily change that.  This stories comments tells that story.  Best rivalry in hockey is Chicago/Vancouver.  Mind you, if these teams meet in the playoff, I will have to drop everything.  
    I’d also like to remind people that while hacking and slashing has become common place in the game.  Whether or not you hit a player IN PLAY or AFTER WHISTLE, if he doesn’t have the puck it should be a penalty.  All of these IN PLAY or OUT OF PLAY comments are really just semantics.

    I am proud of my Team Canada Crosby jersey, but step up and play the game.

    I don’t particularly like either team.  I like Milbury less.

  10. Thanks for calling out the real punk here.   I hope the Pens ban him from Consol come Saturday and give no interviews to NBC.  The remarks are imbecilic and moronic.  He was trying to ingratiate himself with the Flyer fans.   What was also despicable were the radio announcers giggling about his statements the whole time.   Grow up Milbury, he has never gotten over the loss to the Pens in the playoffs in 91.   He stunk as a coach, and GM and cannot hold a candle to the other hockey commentators (mike Emrick) who have way more class.

  11. Millbury has the mind of a flea, was a third rate player, a lousy coach and an abject failure as a GM.
    Why HNIC keeps him around defies logic.  The man contributes nothing relevent, enertaining or informed…but, he does think highly of his own opinion.

  12. Milbury is almost 60,  I would hate to see what Bylsma would do to him, but he won’t because he has class.  Exactly what has Milbury ever done in hockey? Lousy player worse coach and awful GM

  13. This is possibly one of the best hockey related articles that I have ever read. I agree with all of your points Jim, but remain concerned that these issues are not being considered enough at the higher levels.

  14. I personally can’t stand Milbury. He was a border-line Goon as a player, a loser coach and an incompetent destructive GM. As an announcer I’d liken him to a Pest, he makes Avery look legit. Not to mention he’s always had a problem with the Pens.

    Shen should have dropped the gloves with Crosby or hit him while in play. The cross check to the back was a cheap shot, no bones about it. Crosby egged him the entire game, so egg him back, but do it like a man or a hockey player and not with a gut-less act. The Flyers acting like that after the Vitale hit was so completely stupid I don’t even know how to comment. I’m also disappointed in Asham trying to start a fight AFTER everything seemed to calm down, he should have swung when he had the chance.

  15. As a woman, I agree about the skirt comment being wrong, and I don’t think people should simply target Crosby, or any other player. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have valid points over all. Pens fans don’t want to recognize that Sid started that shit.  Pens fans want to scowl at Jagr for smiling in the box - well he sure as hell wasn’t smiling when the stick-breaking-slash by a Pen on him wasn’t called. If the Pens coaches are going to pull a chicken shit move, they shouldn’t be surprised when they are called out for it.  WHY the Pens got the power play in the end, I don’t understand, and why everyone is hating on the Flyers who LOST TWO PLAYERS in injuries from Pens, is mind-bending.  I was happy that someone like Mike, albeit with less than desirable means, made these points.

    • You are clearly biased. YES, Crosby kept slashing Shen and should have been sent to the sin-bin a few times, but those were IN PLAY. Shen cross-checked him from behind after the whistle like a chicken-shit. As a Pens fan I don’t agree with constantly boo-ing Jagr, yes he’s a douche bag but he still helped and brought a lot of prominence to a struggling franchise. The Pens coaches pulled no chicken-shit move, they put their fourth line out (who have NO goons, one you could call a borderline enforcer) because the game was LOST and having your star players out there with a team noted for starting shit (I do note this year’s Flyers aren’t the dirty team they used to be, but they still start shit) is just stupid. Also, crying about the Flyers losing TWO PLAYERS to clean hits is ridiculous.  The Pens got the PP essentially because the Flyers started the scrum. 

  16. Who cares if someone threw a banana at him. I didnt here him cry about it. Only the Liberals Punks who could never play the game and write about all the mean bullies in the league were crying about it.. Flyers and Pens game this coming saturday will be the highest ratings of the year for a game. Why? because people LOVE Violence in sports.. When do you here the biggest cheer in the game? After a great fight…. 

  17. I guess this is the Leftwing nutbag tree hugging Hockey page..

  18. I respect Bylsma MORE for not making a mockery of my favorite sport. I was upset to see Granato for falling into Laviolette’s little shouting game. I like toughness, don’t get me wrong, but what Laviolette was upset about was NOTHING to be upset about. Infact, hasn’t he done the same? Putting 4th liners out there? Big whoop. Vitale’s hit was clean. Get over it. Cheers to Bylsma for not being a douche.

    • It’s a heat of the moment type thing. Tempers get flared, emotions and adrenaline levels are high and people tend to do and say stuff out of their norm. Kind of like how Crosby cries and whines when things dont go his way

    • I agree. Laviolette’s grand standing was so pointless and embarrassing. I’m glad Bylsma didn’t fall for it.

    • NHL Flyers fan says:

      To say that Bylsma was completely innocent by sending out fourth liners who hadn’t played in over 12 minutes is either naive or a weak justification by Pens fans. I don’t hear anybody in Pittsburgh crying over Danny Briere being out indefinitely from the hit he took and he missed significant time this season with concussion symptoms as well. Crosby has become the Michael Jordan of hockey – no one is ever supposed to touch him and the refs look the other way when he makes his sneaky-dirty moves on other players. Bylsma knew exactly what he was doing when he sent those guys out there.

  19. What about when Simmonds had a banana thrown at him?  

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required Email Address * Name Email Format html text mobile