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Columnist has 'cold sweats' after insensitive reference Add to ...

Chris Jones had a very bad day yesterday, and he's not going to feel much better about things today.

The Port Hope, Ont. writer recently landed a gig as the back page columnist for ESPN Magazine, a U.S.-based sports magazine that does about 2-million copies every two weeks. That's the good part.

The bad part is that his fourth column - which was released online yesterday but lands in newsstands today - uses the term "Montreal Massacre Part II" to refer to the management antics of Jeff Loria, the owner of the Florida Marlins baseball team.

"Stadiums have never saved cities," Mr. Jones writes, comparing the Marlins’ plans to build a new stadium to Mr. Loria’s thwarted attempts to move out of the Big O when he was the owner of the Montreal Expos. "In fact, you're about to witness the Montreal Massacre, Part II, only on a far grander, even more heartbreaking scale."

Mr. Loria is widely blamed for driving the Expos out of Montreal.

The problem: As most Canadians (but not necessarily U.S. editors) know, “Montreal Massacre” commonly refers to the Ecole Polytechnique shootings, when Marc Lepine killed 14 female students in 1989.

There's also this unfortunate line in the column about the former Expos mascot: "I had the misfortune of covering his murder of the Expos; I'll never forget the sound Youppi! made, begging for his giant orange life."

The response to the reference was immediate: “That Montreal Massacre bit in your ESPN column is a whole bunch of bullshit,” tweeted DrewGROF soon after the column was posted.

We reached Mr. Jones for comment.

The term "Montreal Massacre" just popped into his head, he says, as an alliterative flourish, but he didn't make the connection.

He filed the column two weeks ago, around the same time of year the shootings occurred. The term would have been on the news, although he swears it wasn't something that he remembers recently hearing.

When he read the first tweet, he assumed it had something to do with comparing the two cities.

The second tweet was more explicit, and he realized what was going on.

"A cold sweat covered my body," he says. I actually started shaking."

He went into damage control - he responded personally to as many of the hundreds of messages that he could. He called his editor, and had a clarification tacked onto the end of the online version of his story. He changed the wording to "Montreal scenario."

Unfortunately, the magazine was already sent to subscribers, and will be on shelves tomorrow. He's hugely regretful.

"I'm Canadian, but when that happened my family lived in Australia," he says. "I was 15 and on the other side of the world, and there was no Internet. If you said Columbine, my mind would go right there. But if you say Montreal, there are a million other things I think of first."

“I know there are people who don't believe me," he continued. "But if they could have seen me and felt the hot flush they would know how badly I felt."

To read the full interview with Chris Jones, go here.

Many are giving Mr. Jones the benefit of the doubt. But there are also many who think he should have known better. What do you think?

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