Remember when the Leafs fired Brian Burke just before the season began in January? And remember the crazy rumours that followed of why he was fired? Consensus was he didn’t want to trade for Roberto Luongo (but neither did Nonis, seemingly?) or he had a falling out with the new ownership at MLSE. The craziest rumours had him sleeping with, and possibly getting pregnant, a MLSE staffer or Sportsnet’s Connected host Hazel Mae. Mae was on maternity leave, which only added fuel to the fire. She has since returned to Sportsnet to host the evening edition of Connected. I don’t think anybody really knows where the rumour started, but now 18 people who published it online are facing a defamation lawsuit from Burke.
Most of the 18 posts which Burke has cited in his legal documents are from various hockey forums on the internet, including the popular HFBoards as well as a few relatively unknown blogs. On a larger scale it raises questions about what can legally be posted on the internet and by who. I know that personally I never ran this story because I could find absolutely no evidence, or source, who was willing to say it was true. I knew my reputation was on the line if I did run it and it turned out incorrect. But for some random person who posts on a message board or who has no connection to sports media, it might be worth the risk. This case could set a precedent in Canada on if anonymous online material is considered defamatory.
This news doesn’t come as a complete surprise to me. Back in January Burke’s lawyers threatened Toronto Mike’s blog with a lawsuit because somebody had posted the rumour in the comments. Thankfully for Mike, who wanted no part of the rumour or lawsuit, his blog is not among those named in the lawsuit. So, it looks like Burke’s lawyers have worked on this for months. However, what I don’t understand is the timing. This story may have made the rounds in January, but I haven’t heard anything about it in months. He skipped town for a scouting job in Anaheim a month after he was fired. The story was dead.
And now its on the front page of every major news source in Canada. Seems like a PR disaster to me. Anyone who was sensible knew the story was likely untrue or greatly exaggerated. I am very interested to see where this goes, to say the least. You can see the full legal document here, courtesy of CBC Sports.
UPDATE (9:41pm, April 27): Earlier today Sportsnet sent out a media advisory containing this statement from Hazel Mae’s legal counsel Iain MacKinnon
Hazel Mae fully supports the lawsuit brought forth by Mr. Burke and feels strongly that people should be held accountable for writing and spreading malicious lies over the Internet. Ms. Mae is still considering all of her legal options. She will not be commenting further on the matter at this time.