Cuthbert firing defies reason

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

Chris Cuthbert knew something was up. He just didn't think it was his employment.

He fully expected to have his pay slashed in this winter without hockey. He fully expected to have his contract renegotiated, to have meetings, something, someone to talk to him about his future at CBC.

What he never saw coming until he answered his front door Tuesday afternoon was a courier handing him an envelope informing him that his 21 years at the CBC had come to an end.

There was no phone call, no handshake, no thanks for the memories.

A cold and classless ending for one of the warm and truly admirable people in the Canadian broadcasting industry.

"At CBC, they constantly remind you that no one is irreplaceable," Cuthbert said. "But I never expected this. This hurts. This hurts a lot.

"The problem I have is, I don't even know who made the decision.

"All I know is I looked down the line and was made to feel like I was a fairly important part of the team."

Fairly important? That's typical of Cuthbert's down-home modesty. He is probably the most versatile, respected and frankly best-liked sports announcer in the country. He was the No. 2 play-by-play man at Hockey Night In Canada, the voice of the Grey Cup and figure skating and almost every Olympic sport where a medal seemed a possibility.

"I haven't been able to make any sense of this at all," said Elliott Kerr, Cuthbert's agent. "I'm shocked, I'm confused and it has not been explained to me.

"The part that bewilders me is Chris is in the top two or three at CBC, if not in the industry, in terms of talent. I don't say that, everybody else does. Somebody made a decision and they haven't been able to explain why."

The two best reasons why Cuthbert is no longer at CBC Sports are 1) pettiness; and 2) budget cuts. Nancy Lee, the head of CBC Sports, apparently was not a fan. She let him know, more than once, that she didn't share the opinion of Cuthbert that most of the industry had.

And from the inside and not so quietly, Cuthbert was critical of some CBC Sports decisions. He believes they have all but ignored the National Hockey League lockout. He believes that the cancellation of their Hockey Day broadcast was a mistake. What he doesn't know now is whether he was a victim of trying to make CBC Sports better or simply of a salary cut for a department which needs to alter its economics.

"There are hundreds of ways to make cuts," Kerr said. "This shouldn't have been one of them."

And since the news leaked out Tuesday afternoon, Cuthbert has spent almost all of his time on the telephone. Peter Mansbridge called and left a message. That meant something. The evil Bob Goodenow called to show he isn't always the evil Bob Goodenow. Almost everybody who is anybody in the sports or broadcast industry in Canada called, all of them asking the same question.

No one having the answer.

"In the face of almost the worst days you can have, it's most gratifying to get the kind of response I've gotten," Cuthbert said. "I was on the phone from three to 10 last night. The phone hasn't stopped ringing. I've had calls from people in nine of 10 provinces. I must not be very popular in New Brunswick."

Chris Cuthbert then laughed an uncomfortable laugh. Everyone at CBC should feel uncomfortable now. If they can find a reason to get rid of Cuthbert, no one's job is safe. No one's.


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