Media

Denver Post Hockey Writer Stirs Controversy With Photo of Stanley Cup Hoist

The caption Mike Chambers chose when he shared this photo on Twitter reads: "Probably the most memorable experience of my career."
The caption Mike Chambers chose when he shared this photo on Twitter reads: "Probably the most memorable experience of my career." @MikeChambers
The last thing most listeners tuning in to 104.3 The Fan on June 28 expected to hear was an extended debate about ethics. But that was the focus of the 2 p.m. hour, when hosts Zach Bye, James Merilatt, Tyler Polumbus and Darren "D-Mac" McKee went back and forth over the decision by Denver Post hockey writer Mike Chambers to post a photo of himself on Twitter holding the Stanley Cup above his head, as members of the Colorado Avalanche had after winning the NHL championship over the Tampa Bay Lightning, while puffing on a cigar.

There's a longstanding tradition that only triumphant players and other team personnel have the right to lift the Cup as Chambers did. The trophy is viewed as sacred by hockey purists, and superstitions around it abound. For example, players absolutely refuse to touch the Cup until victory is secured, out of concern that doing so prematurely will eternally jinx them.

And then there's the journalistic tenet that reporters and other media figures should avoid becoming too chummy with the folks they cover in order to maintain their objectivity. That's the angle tackled by Barrett Sports Media's Ian Casselberry in a June 28 post headlined "Denver Post's Mike Chambers Hurts Credibility by Hoisting Stanley Cup" — the article that caught the attention of the 104.3 The Fan crew.

In Casselberry's view, the photo "looks less than professional" since it shows Chambers "acting as if he's part of the team and celebrating with the organization." And while sports is "meant to be fun," he argued that "those who cover a sports team every day don’t want to be perceived as a public relations arm of the organization. They often work to fight that notion, because a tough, unflattering story may have to be written. There will likely be criticism of players, coaches and executives during a long season. It’s part of the job. At least it should be. Some might not be too critical or scrutinizing for fear of jeopardizing access or favorability. Others might like being around a team and taking part in its daily routine, even if indirectly. But those reporters risk their credibility by becoming more friendly with the people they cover than they should be."

Chambers put himself in that position, Casselberry wrote, because "he’s not a member of the Colorado Avalanche. He’s not on the player roster or coaching staff. He doesn’t work in the front office. Yet he appeared to conduct himself as if that was the case."

Plenty of other sports writers and broadcasters felt likewise, as indicated by social-media responses like this one:
On The Fan, Bye and Merilatt were the most uncomfortable with Chambers's actions. For his part, Polumbus, a former Denver Bronco, said he was willing to give Chambers a pass if he'd been handed the Cup by Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog in such a way that he naturally had to hold it over his head — but he also tweaked McKee, who called Chambers a pal, for his discomfort at ripping a fellow media figure when ex-athletes are expected to criticize current players all the time.

To McKee, the context of Chambers's choice was important, and he invited the writer to come on the show to describe what went down. After Chambers did so, he provided Westword with an explanation that focuses more on protocol involving the Cup than on whether he'd breached journalistic ideals.

"I walked near the Cup with no intention of touching it and was approached by Gabe Landeskog," Chambers notes. "He bear-hugged me for about a minute, with mostly him talking. He thanked me for my professionalism and class in my coverage. It was mutual professional respect. Gabe and I go back to 2011, when he joined the Avs at age eighteen. We've had a long history through the ups and downs of the team's play, of my coverage. To that end, Gabe wanted to take a picture with me and the Cup. I obliged. He held one side, I held the other. I let go and he then handed it to me and said something like 'Hold it high.'"

Chambers adds: "I was honoring Gabe's wishes. I would not have touched the thing if he didn't ask me to."

He offers no apologies about his decision — and the photo remains proudly displayed on his Twitter feed.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts