HNIC host Ron MacLean apologizes for on-air comment, says he was misunderstood

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean has apologized for a comment he made during a national hockey broadcast Tuesday which set off accusations of homophobia on social media.

Some viewers accused broadcaster of homophobia during Leafs-Habs game

Sports broadcaster Ron MacLean is being criticized for a comment he made during Tuesday night's Toronto-Montreal NHL playoff game. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean has apologized for a comment he made during a national hockey broadcast Tuesday which set off accusations of homophobia on social media.

In a statement released by Sportsnet, which produces HNIC, MacLean said he was "deeply sorry" for the remark, which he says was misunderstood. Sportsnet said it supports MacLean in his acknowledgement and apology.

During the second intermission of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens playoff game, MacLean referred to a picture visible on a shelf behind analyst and former NHL player Kevin Bieksa. The picture was of fellow analyst Anthony Stewart with his shirt off at a rum party.

"You have a photo of a guy with his tarp [shirt] off, you're definitely positive for something," MacLean said on the broadcast which was shown on CBC.

MacLean says he was referring to an earlier part of the show when a panel was laughing about the picture, and Bieksa's comment that he was a positive person. MacLean says the reference to "positive" meant testing for alcohol.

"I meant the rum," MacLean said in his statement. "I understand that when others are in 'earshot' of a two-way conversation the potential for misunderstanding exists."

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Immediately after he said it, comments appeared on social media interpreting the 61-year-old's remark as a reference to AIDS.

WATCH | MacLean under fire:

Ron MacLean criticized for on-air comment Tuesday

3 years ago
Duration 1:24
Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean is being accused of making a homophobic remark during the Toronto-Montreal broadcast on Tuesday night.

Spoke with inclusion advocacy group

Earlier Wednesday, David Palumbo, vice-chair of You Can Play, which promotes inclusion in sports, said he spoke with MacLean and said he "took ownership of [what he said."]

Palumbo said he's known MacLean for a long time and believes he's sincere in 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."

WATCH | LGBTQ+ advocate discusses MacLean's comment:

Ron MacLean reaches out to LGBTQ+ community following controversial on-air remark

3 years ago
Duration 10:17
CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin recaps the controversial comments made by Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean that many have deemed homophobic, and CBC News' Andrew Nichols interviews former hockey player and LGBTQ+ advocate Brock McGillis, who spoke with MacLean on Tuesday night.

Apologized for Cherry's remarks

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.


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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