This has not been the best of weeks for Boston sports fans. First, the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup on home ice to the Chicago Blackhawks. Second, the strange Aaron Hernandez story that led to his arrest on first degree murder charges and subsequent release from the New England Patriots. Third, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers got traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Fourth, the Celtics traded 2008 Championship stalwarts Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. And fifth, you have NESN deciding to not renew the contract of popular Bruins rinkside reporter Naoko Funayama.
In a blurb that was sent out to reporters just before 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, NESN stated the following:
"NESN has elected to go in a different direction and will not be renewing the contract of NESN Bruins sideline reporter Naoko Funayama when it expires later this summer……
… A search for a new sideline position is underway".
If you thought that this was just a mere personnel move that would escape the attention of passionate Bruins fans, check out the outpouring of support for Naoko that swelled to the point where she trended in Boston on Twitter.
NESN has gained a reputation in New England for being cheap and dropping talent when management feels they become too expensive. Sean McDonough, Hazel Mae, Cole Wright, Randy Scott and Heidi Watney are some of the people who come to mind.
Funayama caught the attention of NESN executives in 2007 when she was a reporter for WMUR-TV in Manchester, NH. She was covering the Red Sox signing of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka when the official interpreter was having trouble translating the press conference. Naoko who is fluent in Japanese, quickly took over and NESN hired her as a freelance reporter to cover Daisuke for that season. She was hired full-time by NESN in 2008 as the Bruins sideline reporter and followed the team as it rose from mediocrity to Stanley Cup Champions in 2011 and continued through the Cup run that fell short this season.
What's interesting about the whole thing is the day before the NESN announcement, Naoko tweeted some profound words about Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference who was let go by the team this week.
Sports can be cruel- give everything to the team, so much to the community, and still you're out. We'll all miss @Ferknuckle. One of a kind.
— Naoko Funayama (@NaokoFunayama) June 26, 2013
The Boston Globe's Chad Finn who covers the sports media in New England wonders if NESN knew how unpopular this move would be by attempting to bury the announcement in the evening hours.
Remarkable backlash in feed/email on NESN's decision not to renew @NaokoFunayama. Makes you think there was a reason they did it at 8 p.m.
— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) June 28, 2013
Her co-worker, NESN Bruins voice Jack Edwards showed support and then tried to rally angry Bruins fans to come to Naoko's defense.
All @NaokoFunayama did: show up every day w great attitude, team player, won trust of plr's & coaches, got answers, delivered A+. Sad day.
— Jack Edwards (@RealJackEdwards) June 28, 2013
I leave you #BringBackNaoko zealots with this: Fighting the good fight is not only the right thing to do, it can be a heck of a lot of fun.
— Jack Edwards (@RealJackEdwards) June 28, 2013
The "fighting the good fight" line is in reference to Jack's infamous 2011 commentary following the Bruins' elimination of the Montreal Canadiens.
Naoko's NESN Red Sox counterpart Jenny Dell gave her support.
Best of luck to a great co-worker and even better person, @NaokoFunayama. So much admiration for her.
— Jenny Dell (@JennyDellNESN) June 28, 2013
Bruins radio voice Dave Goucher chimed in.
Sad to hear about @NaokoFunayama. Showed up every day, worked as hard as anyone, and did it all with a smile. A rarity in the business.
— Dave Goucher (@DavidCGoucher) June 28, 2013
Former NESN co-worker Randy Scott who is currently at ESPN gave Naoko some career advice.
— Randy Scott (@RandyScottESPN) June 28, 2013
Another former co-worker, Heidi Watney of MLB Network gave her support to Funayama.
— Heidi Watney (@HeidiWatney) June 28, 2013
Bruins forward Tyler Seguin summed up the players' thoughts.
Not only did Naoko gain the respect of the fans, but she also had the respect of the players over the five seasons she was with NESN.
And when ESPN's hockey maven, John Buccigross tweets in support of Naoko, you know she has gained some national respect.
Sad to hear @NaokoFunayama will not be returning to Bruins broadcast. She was always a measured and gigantic dose of decency and class.
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 28, 2013
To see the reaction almost unanimous in a sideline reporter's favor is practically unheard of in this Twitter age. Perhaps her popularity will vault her to the NHL Network or to NESN's Boston competitor, Comcast SportsNet.