Twittersphere piles on Ron MacLean for comparing hockey players to 9/11 first responders

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Ron MacLean has made a play for Don Cherry's spot as the resident shoot-from-the-lip maker of bone-head statements on Hockey Night in Canada.

The backlash was swift Wednesday night when MacLean, Cherry's longtime sidekick, opened Game 6 of the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers game by comparing the players to first responders in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Here's what he said, according to Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog:

"From the capital of the U.S. of A., it's New York and Washington. The economic and political engines of America, united in the birth of the country, they're also linked in tragedy. They were the twin targets of the coordinated attacks on 9/11.

"It's crazy to compare what the emergency responders did during that time, but a spirit has to start somewhere. And as you enjoy this series between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals — Game 6 comin' up, 3-2 New York — you can't help but be struck by the players and the way they've played these games.

"They are like police officers. They are like firefighters. You can't fight fire with ego. Brad (Richards) knows that. The pain these men have faced. The price they keep on paying. The hearts they keep on lifting. It's been through and through, five games in. You see the commitment, they're ready to go again this evening in Game 6 at Verizon Center in Washington.

"We all know about the firefighters. Our worst day is their every day. Been a joy to watch."

The commentary pushed Twitter into overdrive.

"As the son of a policeman and the brother of a firefighter, I find the comparison highly dubious and slightly insulting," tweeted Mike @randommusingsON.

"Poor Ron MacLean, now he knows how Don Cherry feels more often than not," added Lynn Dove.

Larry Brooks' (@NYP_Brooksie) comment calling it "one of the most idiotic television segments of all time," was widely retweeted. "Just wait for the WWII analogies before Game 7."

Howard Bloom of Sports Business News tweeted that if MacLean had been working in the U.S. for ESPN "he would have (been) suspended or fired for the obscenity he uttered on the air tonight."

An attempt by MacLean and the CBC to clarify his remarks didn't appear to help.

"Washington and New York. The two cities united by the tragedy of 9-11," he said in the statement, reported by The Canadian Press.

"I, like everyone on the planet in his or her lifetime, saw beyond the horror, the single greatest testament to the strength of the human spirit in the efforts of the first responders. We never know if we'll have that spirit. The bravery, the resilience.

"As I made clear, the hockey games in no way compare. However sports has proven a worthy training ground in nurturing the qualities which beget that spirit. To say he plays like a firefighter or a policeman would instantly conjure the traits an athlete most desires, especially in New York and Washington. There could be no higher praise of a player, no greater choice of a role model."

He reiterated his closing comment from Wednesday that for first responders, "Our worst day is their everyday. They stand alone."

But most weren't buying the tortured analogy comparing millionaire athletes with public servants who put their lives on the line.

"Come on, Ron," tweeted Andrew Green. "Not even close."

Toronto Star sports columnist Cathal Kelly defended MacLean, if not his comments.

Comparing playoff hockey to 9/11 was "not a good idea," he conceded. "One is entertainment. The other is real life at its worst."

But MacLean has nothing to apologize for, Kelly said.

"Intention is everything," he argued. "I defy anyone to suggest that Ron MacLean set out to run down people who died trying to save others inside a pair of burning buildings."

Mainstream media was laying back, allowing Twitter to do "the real hatchet work" on MacLean.

"That's how a character gets assassinated these days," Kelly wrote.