Television personality Hal Johnson, who co-hosted the Canadian health and fitness segment “Body Break,” said the long-running series was started to combat racism.
In a four-minute YouTube video, Johnson said he was hired by TSN to be a sports reporter in 1988.
Later that day, he said he received another call from the same person saying that he wouldn’t get the job after all because network executives said TSN already had a Black reporter and didn’t want to have two.
TSN, a division of Bell Media, issued an apology via a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“We apologize to Hal Johnson for the racism he experienced at TSN beginning in 1988, a shameful part of our past, and thank him for sharing his story as a reminder of the impact of racism in Canadian media that continues today. We recognize that even 30 years later, there is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity.
“As a first step, TSN is part of Bell Media’s recently announced Content Diversity Task Force, which as part of its mandate is committed to amplifying voices from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) on-air talent.”
In the video, Johnson also described a commercial shoot at a Toronto racetrack in 1988, where he was joined by two white actors to rehearse a cheering scene. He said that before they shot the scene, a director asked the white woman to sit beside the white man instead of Johnson.
Johnson asked the assistant director about the switch afterwards and was told the client didn’t want the white woman to be seen sitting beside a Black man.
Johnson wondered to himself how he could change things, and after meeting Joanne McLeod, Body Break was born.
Johnson said he was met with resistance when shopping Body Break around to Canadian companies though. He was told the Canadian public wasn’t ready for a Black and white couple.
The two pitched Body Break to Participaction, a federal government program for healthy living, and went on to create 65 Body Break episodes, which were a television fixture for a generation of Canadians.
Johnson and McLeod also appeared on “The Amazing Race Canada” in 2013.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020.
The Canadian Press