Edmonton - April 11, 2014 - This post is a response to a piece written by Pat McLean of BlackDogHatesSkunks.blospot.ca
You can read the original post HERE
As usual when reading through a BDP post, I find myself shaking my head, nodding in approval, having to re-read certain sentences or phrases because they were that good, and others because they didn't make sense to me. It was quite winded, but full of information. I never really felt like it dragged on. I did want to point out some things that I really liked, and some things that I disliked regarding your comments about the roles of storytelling in the main-stream media.
I can't help but agree that there is obviously very little advantage from a broadcasting perspective, simply because at one point the guy speaking wore an NHL sweater. Guys like Don Cherry, Anson Carter, Louis Debrusk, Strudwick etc, they shouldn't get more attention and respect just because of their past as an NHLer. A lot of the time, they do and that breeds some sort of superiority over popular opinion (a few generations in the case of Don Cherry).
The common belief is that, because they have or had the necessary experience to play, they automatically have the experience to comment on the guys who currently play. That was a great point by Pat. I think the fact that so many people are ready to buy in to that system of sports broadcasting and journalism isn’t the real problem. Perhaps the real problem is not the few guys who are speaking, it's more so the millions that listen and regurgitate it.
What I mean by that is, it's very important to remember that anyone in the main-stream media does what they do, and they say what they say for a paycheck. If they were to give opinions that go against what other members of the media are spewing, there is a very real risk of being seen as the guy with the "out there" opinions.
Take the example of Tom Brady. For four years, all ESPN could talk about was how good of a clutch, character QB Tom Brady was. They praised him when he walked into a press conference, when he blew up on the sidelines, when he married his supermodel wife. It was all because of the clutch player that was Tom Brady. Was it true? Maybe in some ways. Even as hot as Gisselle is, I don't think Brady landed here because he was a clutch QB. I also know that there were times when his aggressive Michael Jordan-esque form of leadership was criticized by his own teammates.
When did that come out in the media? When he was struggling. Was that because of the sportswriters desire to tell the best story? Absolutely, but can you put it on the sportswriters who told the story more than the public that wasn't ready to hear anything else?
For the last 40 years, the main-steam media has been a puppet to the society it presents to. Can the blame really be all on the guys who are telling the story if they are being forced to tell it that way?
When the Chicago Cubs saw their World Series dreams crushed by a nerdy kid with headphones and a pullover, was there anyone ready to defend him? Did any of the sports analysts or sports writers mention that the infamous "Steve Bartman incident" never should have occurred, and the only reason it did was because of the egg that the Cubs laid during that game? This kid received death threats, and was forced into hiding because according to the media, he cost his favourite baseball team a shot at a championship, but you know who didn't? The other 2 or 3 people that reached over the barricade for the ball at Wrigley Field that night, or the team that couldn’t finish a good run.
Who was it that never pointed any of that out? The main-stream media. What if some sportswriter with a following took the time to reach out to the public, and defend Steve Bartman? Would it have done anything more than cost this sportswriter any sort of credibility he ever had? The fans in Chicago needed Bartman to blame for the failures of the team, so the main-stream media quenched their thirst. It was unfair, it was life-changing for a guy lost in the moment of a baseball flying towards his section and being able to take home a piece of his lifelong favourite team.
In hindsight of course, the story is no longer as brutal, the sting has worn off, and the ESPN documentarian that produced the special on the incident is praised for defending Steve 15 years after the fact. But again, who is more to blame? Is it the main-stream fans who needed to throw logic out the window and nail a scapegoat to the scoreboard? Or was it the guys in the main-stream media who appeased them by doing their job?
I think that there are many types of sports fans that exist. There are casual fans who will sometimes watch “their team” play just as long as they are finding some kind of success. Of course once the team stops having success, you wouldn’t be able to get them to shut up about how they as fans, “deserve better.” There are the hardcore fans that won’t be happy unless there is instantaneous gratification to their widespread opinion to fire the people that they deem unsatisfactory to team success. Unless of course the team has success in which case, the only reason they do is because of the superior leadership and character of one or more of the players or coaches. (See how that comes full circle?)
You have the analytical fans who often try not to let the negative overshadow the statistics. Promise of a better future lies in numbers and in events rather than the stories that the main-stream media presents. You also have the analytical fans that rely solely on numbers to draw conclusions on every situation. For example: the Oilers Corsi has been declining since 2006, so it’s entirely Kevin Lowe’s fault that the team hasn’t seen the playoffs since, and if the team would have put an emphasis on corsi, there would have been a successful product on the ice for the last eight years.
There are also the fans that don’t actually pay attention to the team until they are featured on the wrap-up shows, and that’s where they get their fix of information. The fact of the matter is, there are a lot more of the fans that will buy what the media sells than the ones who have enough time and effort to form their own opinions. If that was not the case, perhaps there would be a reason for the main-stream media to do something other than feed them the storylines that they do.
Hard to imagine that a puckbunny with four kids and a full time job is going to listen to a guy go on and on about the numbers with charts and graphs when they can be dazzled by highlight reel goals, and instances of great character in the form of two guys on the ice beating the hell out of each other. When that puckbunny goes to work, what do you think she is going to say when her co-worker asks her if she saw the game last night? I can almost guarantee that stats will not come up.
Of course there are always exceptions. Guys like Mark Spector, and Don Cherry come to mind. It’s always helpful when their headlines are destroyed by the head coach in a post-game press conference, or by a player coming back and proving them wrong a few weeks after they accost them via the outlet of the day.
I just can’t see the main-stream media being completely to blame for romanticizing hockey or any professional sport for that matter. The public demand is for a story to be one worth telling, and if someone in the main-stream media were to break that mold, as most things in life, many people would not be willing to accept the change.
We have already heard instances of players desire to avoid major sports markets, due to the tenacity of fans. We have also seen more of a demonstration by fans in those major markets to voice displeasure (Jersey Toss 2013-2014). I don’t know how long it will take for a big name player to flat out blame the fans for not signing with a team or requesting a trade out of their because of public persona.
It never ceases to baffle me the amount of heat that NHL or other professional sports players take for the most insignificant of instances. Like when a fan says “he plays the sport he loves for millions of dollars, so he needs to play harder.” You don’t think he knows that? You don’t think he realizes the amount of pressure he has put on himself, and his career, and his life to succeed. His parents probably had to spend a fortune on him getting there, and he probably had to spend a lifetime of childhood memories on the ice or in the gym to make it worth it, and you want to call him soft?
I think that was the part of BDP’s post that had me saying “amen” and nodding my head aggressively. Fans will never understand anything close to what these guys experience yet the find it necessary to act as though that doesn’t matter. Give me a break.
Now to bring it full circle, the fans that question a player’s level of toughness on a regular basis are the ones that are practically writing the storylines for the main-stream media to spit onto paper. If you don’t believe me, go to Facebook and find the Oilers fan page with 15k members. You will see every kind of sports fan the world has to offer, good and bad, and you will be able to draw a direct correlation with main-stream media and the opinions being spewed by the public.
Take the other facebook page entitled “Kevin Lowe Has To Go” that garnered somewhere close to 14,000 “Likes” in just a few weeks. They raised enough money to put up a billboard for a few weeks with the sole intention of a man losing his job. The main-stream media picked it up like a magnet. They talked about it locally, nationally, even found a way to mention it on the Sportsnet broadcast of the Oilers game.
What ended up happening? The billboard was taken down, because the group funding it couldn’t garner the same kind of support once the Oilers started winning a few more games. The main-stream media forgot about it, because the public forgot about it. Now it’s pretty much a cesspool of Oilers fan negativity on every single post.
There is a direct correlation between the storylines presented by the main-stream media and the fans that spew it as knowledge of their own. The fact of the matter is; hockey and other professional sports and their stories are not told in a blog or in a highlight reel. They are stories that deserve to be discussed by watching them play out on the ice.
The Vancouver Canucks did not lose game 6 of the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Final by a score of 8-1 because Nathan Horton was injured on a dirty hit less than 4 minutes in. There was probably some emotion that was playing out, but they won because Roberto Luongo was AWFUL in that game.
To a Boston fan, what did they want to hear? They wanted to hear that somehow the team scored more goals in one game than they did in the entire series, because someone on the bench (probably Shawn Thornton) said to “win it for Horty.” Not because Roberto Luongo had to have an amazing run come to an end at some point or another.
The only real way that the true story would be told in the main-stream media would be if the players themselves took the time to come out and tell the story that they are living, and I’m sorry that’s just too much to ask for a guy who has already thrust his and his family’s life forever in the spotlight.
So, the main-stream media continues to take bits and pieces of what a player says, and they write the rest as a fairy tale. They see a player put a dollar in his pocket, and go on the air saying, “this Player only has a dollar in his pocket” without finding out whether or not there was anything in his pocket to begin with. (That’s a metaphor by the way).
Until then, as fans we just have to determine what side of that discussion we want to be on. Do we want to be the reason that there is always a good story in sports, even though it isn’t actually true? Or do we want to be the ones who are forming our own stories and asking questions that aren’t usually asked? I know where I stand.
Feel free to disagree with me on twitter @Jthompson2380
Big thanks to Black Dog Pat for a very well written piece that you should definitely go check out, if you haven’t already.