NEWARK, N.J. – ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose apologized Tuesday for negative remarks about the area around the New Jersey Devils’ new Prudential Center arena.
In a video segment posted on ESPN.com last week, Melrose described the recently opened arena as a “beautiful new building” but added, “Don’t go outside if you have a wallet or anything else, because the area around the arena is just horrible.”
Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker and Municipal Council President Mildred Crump took exception to the remarks and called for Melrose to apologize.
“All of us make mistakes, but it’s a shame when it’s at the expense of 300,000 people,” Booker said, referring to Newark’s population.
Newark has experienced a rising homicide rate in recent years, and city officials are banking on the new arena to change perceptions about New Jersey’s largest city and to spur downtown development.
Melrose said he has driven through Newark before but has not been to the Prudential Center. He said he based his comments on footage aired by Canadian broadcaster TSN before the Devils’ first game at the new arena Oct. 27.
“I was trying to be funny and I’m sorry it didn’t come through that way,” he said by phone from St. Louis. “No excuse. When I talk I don’t want to offend anybody. I love hockey and I want Newark to be a success. I certainly never wanted to hurt the feelings of the people of Newark or the people of New Jersey. There was no malice on my part.”
Melrose said he first heard about the negative reaction to his comments, which were posted on the Web site last Thursday, on Monday. He said he called Booker’s office Tuesday but wasn’t able get through to the mayor.
Melrose said he wants to come to Newark to have lunch with Booker and tour the area around the arena. Booker sounded agreeable.
“I welcome him coming to the city so we can dispel his ignorance,” Booker said. “I’m happy to hear that he’s willing to come and see the truth and I’m hoping he’s responsible enough to write about it.”
A former NHL player and coach, Melrose has worked as a commentator and studio analyst at ESPN since 1996.
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said the network would not punish Melrose for the comments.
“Barry addressed it and that was the important thing,” Krulewitz said. “He obviously was remorseful and we feel it’s in everybody’s best interests to put it behind us.”