This is a story that not many sports fans in the United States may be aware of, but really stunned me when I looked into it.  Rogers Sportsnet fired anchor Damian Goddard because of a Tweet regarding same-sex marriage.  The entire controversy began when the Twitter account Uptown Sports Tweeted this regarding Sean Avery’s appearance in a video supporting gay marriage…  

Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender “marriage”. Legal or not, it will always be wrong.

Avery took part in the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality Campaign.  Uptown’s Tweet was authored by Todd Reynolds, Vice President of Uptown Sports, a management company that represents several NHL players.  Damian Goddard comes into the picture through his support of Reynolds…

I completely and whole-heartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.

The backlash towards Goddard was swift.  The Rogers Sportsnet Twitter account was hit with criticism of Goddard’s Tweet.  According to the timeline on May 10, on eight occasions Rogers Tweeted responses with the following message…

“Today’s tweet from Damian Goddard does not reflect the views of Rogers Sportsnet.”

The next step in the story was Rogers firing Goddard and releasing this statement

“Damian Goddard is no longer with Rogers Sportsnet. Mr. Goddard was a freelance contractor and in recent weeks it had become clear that he is not the right fit for our organization,” Dave Rashford, Sportsnet’s director of communications, said in a statement.

Goddard followed with this Tweet

gonna spend some time with the wife now. to be clear, damian goddard’s tweets reflect the views of damian goddard. peace, folks!

Obviously, same-sex marriage is an incredibly sensitive issue both culturally and politically.  This story has so many layers that it deserves to be dissected step by step.  Let me be clear and blunt – this analysis isn’t to say who’s right and who’s wrong about gay marriage, but to analyze how the story developed and the impact of Twitter and the sports media…

Sean Avery – Avery should be applauded for his brave stance in support of gay rights.  Sports is one area in society that is well behind in terms of gay rights and many stigmas and stereotypes still exist.  One only has to look at Kobe Bryant swearing on the bench and using a slur earlier this season to see where sports is in this field.  For Avery to be one of the few players to publicly stand up for his beliefs for equality is commendable.

Todd Reynolds/Uptown Sports – The personal views that Todd Reynolds has regarding gay marriage should be just that, Todd Reynolds’ personal views.  The mistake that Reynolds and Uptown Sports made was Tweeting personal views on the matter from the management company’s Twitter account.  Fortunately for Reynolds, his father is the company president and supports his son’s stance.  However, that Tweet from the Uptown Sports account was inappropriate and misguided.  Imagine if the ESPN Twitter account started Tweeting about abortion stances or CBS started Tweeting its support for a particular political candidate.  If Reynolds had Tweeted his views from a personal account, this would likely be a non-story.

Damian Goddard – Goddard Tweeted his support of Reynolds on what appears to be a personal Twitter account (one that had only 648 followers on Friday).  Nowhere on Goddard’s Twitter page is there a link to Rogers Sportsnet or a disclaimer stating that Rogers Sportsnet is in any way tied in with Goddard’s Twitter account.  Unlike other sports media personalities that have their network tied in to their Twitter handle (ESPN_Michelle or SI_PeterKing for instance), Goddard’s Twitter account appears to be unrelated to Rogers.  

Rogers Sportsnet – Looking at the facts so far, it appears that the Canadian media company fired one of its reporters for Tweeting a controversial political/cultural opinion.  Rather than deal with Goddard’s presence on television being a polarizing figure, Rogers cut ties with him.  Rogers was faced with criticism that one of their employees Tweeted a controversial opinion.  But, Goddard’s initial Tweet did not represent Rogers Sportsnet (Disclaimer: Not following Goddard, I can’t 100% verify that his account was related or not to Rogers pre-controversy, but everything I’ve seen says it was a personal Twitter account).  Here is where the impact and the importance of this story comes into play…

It sets a troubling precedent for Rogers to fire one of its on-air personalities for Tweeting his opinion on a cultural, religious and let’s not kid ourselves, highly political issue… especially when it is from what appears to be a personal Twitter account.  Now, it’s certainly within Rogers’ boundaries to make this decision, but I’m wary of the standard set going forward.  I’m aware that Canada’s speech laws are different than the United States and same sex marriage is legal in Canada, but this entire story still makes me uneasy.  Rogers could have stopped at their above clarification that Goddard’s Tweet did not represent Rogers, and the story would have likely died.  Instead, they fired the reporter.

If Goddard had Tweeted his opinion from an account that represented Rogers directly (like Uptown’s Tweet), then a disciplinary measure would make more sense.  In fact, it seems very harsh that Rogers would dump Goddard for what he Tweeted.  (Again, this is not in support/condemnation of either side, but rather looking at the implications of Rogers’ decision to fire Goddard.)  Is Rogers now going to fire everyone who does not support same-sex marriage, or just ones that say so publicly?  What if Goddard had Tweeted his support of Avery, would he be fired then?  What about employees thoughts on abortion, immigration, political parties or religion?  Can nobody at Rogers make their own personal beliefs public without living in fear of being the next Goddard?  

If one continues in this vein of logic, you could reasonably make an argument that Rogers fired Goddard for holding firm to his Roman Catholic beliefs.  Imagine that Pandora’s Box.  What if the head honchos at MSG don’t support gay marriage… should they release Sean Avery for taking his stand?  Is this what companies should be doing?  Now, of course, there will be times when people say such wildly inappropriate and offensive things that a firing is deserved (Jimmy the Greek quickly comes to mind), but did Goddard’s Tweet in support of traditional marriage cross that line?

This story is just another example of the dangers of public figures, even someone as innocuous as a Canadian sports reporter, even thinking about using Twitter.  Goddard probably thought his Tweet was harmless… but it got him fired.  It’s unfortunate that instead of having a conversation and being respectful of both sides of the issue, that Rogers took the quick and easy road of firing Goddard.  Could you imagine the benefit of Goddard and Avery having a respectful conversation about sports and homosexuality that sought understanding and appreciation?  Hopefully, other sports media companies can strike a better balance in allowing employees to publicly share their beliefs without fear of being reprimanded.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.