CBC icon gets classless boot

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

For so many years, he was CBC's Mr. Olympics, the man the network turned to first for the biggest sports event of them all.

Brian Williams relished the role each and every time the flame was lit, be it on the other side of the world in Japan or Australia, or closer to home in Salt Lake City or Atlanta.

Always, he was the right man for the job.

The consummate professional.

A quality his former employer has yet again shown it is sadly lacking.

Sixteen months ago, the CBC ushered Chris Cuthbert -- one of the country's top play-by-play announcers -- out the door without even the courtesy of a phone call.

Cuthbert got the news via a terse telegram delivered to his home. To this day, he has never been given the real reason for his departure.

Apparently, such clinical coldness has become standard policy at the CBC.

Williams was terminated by fax yesterday afternoon. And don't we all hope that's the way we get sent on our way after 32 years of devoted service to our employer?

Not that Williams expected some grand sendoff party. After all, he'd walked into CBC Sports executive director Nancy Lee's office on Monday to tender his resignation, effective Dec. 30.

He'd signed a six-year deal with CTV Inc., with the prime-time host's role for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics the centrepiece of it all (he'll also handle the same duties for London 2012).

"A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Williams called it Monday, all the while making it clear "this is nothing bad about CBC, it's about something good (at CTV).

"I was happy there."

He just didn't want his "Olympic ride" to end with Beijing 2008, two years away from the grandest Games show we might ever see in this country. Neither did Canadians he'd meet on the street who'd ask, with hope in their voice, whether he'd be there for them in Vancouver.

Williams expressed the hope that he'd man the studio for one last season of CFL games for the CBC, with the Grey Cup in Winnipeg as his network swan song.

Lee, however, was on record as saying she'd need to think about it first.

Fair enough.

Yesterday, the CBC announced the role would instead go to Elliotte Friedman, its fine Hockey Night in Canada reporter.

Again, fair enough.

Lee phoned Williams at his Toronto home to inform him he was being taken off the CFL broadcasts. When he asked what else might be available for him to fill his remaining time with CBC, Williams said he was told "I'll let you know in a few minutes by fax."

A fax that turned out to be, essentially, his termination notice.

"It's surprising ... that's all I'll say," Williams told the Sun yesterday, choosing his words carefully. "I'm not in a position to say anything further.

"I expected to do the CFL season, but that's their decision. I'm moving forward."

Of Friedman's appointment, Williams simply said: "He's a class act. I wish him well."

Also worth noting here: When Williams accepted CTV's offer (and he had a six-month window in his contract during which he could leave CBC), he did it with two conditions. That nothing be done to diminish his attention to the CFL, and that he tell Lee in person first. CTV Inc. boss Rick Brace agreed to both.

Williams described Lee's manner during that meeting as "completely professional. No surprise."

Forgive him if that opinion's changed now.

Wouldn't yours?

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