The ESPN reporter recounted ‘threatening’ and ‘vile’ moments during her first year regularly doing play-by-play for NHL games.
Leah Hextall hails from a well-known hockey family, but she made her own mark on the industry.
Hextall became the first woman to call the NCAA men’s hockey title game for ESPN in 2019, and is she is now the first woman to serve as the play-by-play announcer for the nationally-televised NHL games. It’s a job she enjoys, Hextall told The Athletic’s Sean Fitz-Gerald, but it’s an industry that needs to change.
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ESPN struck a seven-year deal to cover the streaming, media and television rights of the sport, and Hextall joined the crew last year. But as she navigated her first season, she says her social media accounts became overwhelmingly filled with criticism and abuse at a volume she had yet to see in her decade-plus career in sports media.
Hextall described the messages to The Athletic as “Vile. Sexist. Misogynistic. And threatening.” There’s one moment in particular where it escalated.
Earlier this summer, Hextall spoke at a conference hosted by The Coaches Site and shared her experience in the industry. Near the end, she detailed one of the worst messages she has received, which came during the playoffs. According to Fitz-Gerald, it was not sent through social media but rather to her email through the website for her public speaking business.
“It said, ‘You live in Winnipeg. It wouldn’t be very hard to track you down,’” she recounted to the audience. After the individual threatened to assault Hextall, the person continued, “‘And when I’m done with you, I will then put a gun in your mouth and blow out your brains so no one has to hear you call a hockey game again.’”
Hextall said to the audience, “That’s not one time. I have a full folder.”
The broadcaster decided to delete the message rather than report the note to the police, showing only per sister.
Hextall said to Fitz-Gerald, “I love my job, and I love what I was doing, but it was very difficult this year. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t showing up to the rink and feeling like I was working in a candy store, like it usually would when I cover hockey. … There was a lot of, more than anything, mental gymnastics to go through. There was a lot of criticism—not just within the social media audience, but also within the brethren of hockey—that I was not used to facing. And a lot of it seemed to stem from my gender.”
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