Rangers' president John Davidson.

On many levels, you’d expect New York Rangers’ president John Davidson to be one of the most media-savvy team presidents in the NHL. Davidson’s decades working in the media, between regional color commentary for MSG, national color commentary for Fox, NBC, ABC, ESPN, CBC and more, and co-authorship of the book Hockey For Dummies, would suggest that he has some idea of how the media world works. But Davidson’s public comments after the team’s decision to move on from defenseman Tony DeAngelo (who remains on their taxi squad after clearing waivers following a confrontation with teammate Alexandar Georgiev Saturday, but is not expected to ever play for them again) appear to indicate that he doesn’t have the greatest handle on the current media environment.

That press conference did include a discussion of the team moving on from DeAngelo (who had previously been under plenty of fire, including with two OHL suspensions for slurs towards teammates and abuse of an official and a NHL suspension for going after an official), but it also saw Davidson go in on Blueshirt Banter. Blueshirt Banter is the SB Nation Rangers’ site that had been at the center of much of the recent DeAngelo discussion (especially with Adam Herman’s piece Sunday discussing other reports of the DeAngelo-Georgiev altercation, and adding reports from multiple sources on internal concerns over DeAngelo’s treatment of teammate K’Andre Miller, who is Black). And DeAngelo has created plenty of other recent controversies, including with a potential burner account on Twitter. Davidson presented Herman’s piece as something from a “fan site” and claimed it was “100 percent false,” as shown in these comments relayed by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski:

The puck story alluded to there is also interesting. In the NHL, the vast majority of first goals scored by a particular player lead to a post-game Twitter post from the team featuring that player holding the puck. It’s easy social media content, and it’s a clear standard at this point. That did not happen after Miller’s first NHL goal on Jan. 26, and videos (including those in Herman’s piece) illustrated that DeAngelo initially retrieved that puck. The Rangers have since said that DeAngelo did nothing wrong, that the disregard for NHL social media norms here came from the team losing the game in question (although that hasn’t stopped them in the case of other players) and not having enough social media personnel on site, and that the puck has been preserved and will be framed for Miller:

And sure, it’s absolutely possible that DeAngelo didn’t specifically interfere with the norm here, and that the Rangers’ disregard for the usual approach came from that limited staffing. But you’d think that the Rangers would be eager to avoid even the appearance of a potential lack of organizational support for Miller after his Zoom signing press conference last spring wound up bombarded by racial slurs.

And even if DeAngelo didn’t specifically intervene in this at all, the team sure has seemed a lot more concerned about immediately documenting for social media the first NHL goals from white players (including Alexis Lafrenière after a 3-2 road win over the Sabres on Jan. 28) than they were for Miller. As Wyshynski has noted, Miller’s agent has joined the crowd of people trying to downplay controversy here. But it’s worth keeping in mind that that might be a calculated move trying to keep Miller himself separated from the actual controversy. It doesn’t mean that there is no controversy.

But the bigger media angle here is the Rangers’ response to the situation, with Davidson’s “it’s sad actually” attempted dismissals and his attempts to write off Herman’s piece based on where it originated rather than its merits. That’s something we’ve repeatedly seen in hockey and other sports, and it usually hasn’t ended well for those who have adopted that approach of criticism. If there’s a specific issue with Herman and Blueshirt Banter in general, or with their reporting here in particular, it’s much better to go into the chapter and verse of what’s wrong then to just dismissively wave at the story based on where it appeared. And that’s before we get to Davidson’s misunderstanding of “freedom of speech,” as relayed in a Wyshynski tweet Monday:

As noted with many discussions about sports and speech over the years, “freedom of speech” is not usually actually relevant to sports figures, at least not in the way it’s typically used to reference the U.S. First Amendment. That amendment is about prohibiting governmental regulation of speech; it has nothing to do with forcing private businesses to continue to employ people who say or do problematic things. Again, John Davidson has spent decades working in the media, and he has seemed to be smarter about these issues than as is indicated from his most recent comments. But his attempted deflections to a “fan blog” and to “freedom of speech” are not a good look, and they don’t illustrate a solid understanding of the current environment.

[Blueshirt Banter]


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.