They call him “Cindy.”
They call him a “crybaby” and a “diver.”
They call him every name in the book.
They shout obscenities at him not fit for print.
All the while, Sidney Crosby continues to be the greatest player in hockey—a one-man highlight machine on both ends of the ice.
The irony is the fans that hate him the most would likely be his biggest fans if he played for their team.
SCDS reaches its fevered pitch during the Stanley Cup Playoffs each year as Crosby torches team after team.
The more subtle form of SCDS is the unwillingness of many to acknowledge Sidney Crosby as one of the greatest in the game or even of his own team.
There are constant calls for Crosby to prove himself...as if leading his team to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals while frequently looking like a man among boys isn’t enough.
And it extends beyond the fans.
He also doesn’t get the respect he deserves from of his peers. In a recent Sports Illustrated survey that asked 324 NHL players who the best player in hockey was, Crosby tied for eighth place with a whopping 1.9 percent of the vote.
Three members of the Detroit Red Wings finished ahead of Crosby, as did teammate Evgeni Malkin, who received seven percent of the votes.
While I’m a huge fan of Geno and can understand why some would favor him, the fact that he got more than three times as many votes is absurd.
When he is at the top of his game, it could at least be argued that he is a more talented player. But it does not happen nearly enough for him to be placed ahead of Sid.
Quite simply, nobody in hockey is as consistently great as Crosby.
He never takes a second off, bringing his fire and fierce work ethic to every shift. Nor does anyone work as hard to excel in every facet of the game—from grinding it out in the defensive zone to winning face-offs to setting up teammates with picture-perfect passes.
Every second he spends on the ice becomes must-see television during the playoffs.
He is that good.
So, what generates the lack of respect and visceral hatred heaped on Crosby?
What causes Flyers and Capitals fans to foam at the mouth and start twitching at the mere mention of his name?
One reason is that greatness will always be hated by some.
Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, but plenty of NFL fans rabidly hate him.
What did he do to generate that hate?
He has been consistently great...that’s it.
All the rest of the reasons given are just background noise to justify the hatred.
The same is true of Sidney Crosby.
He helped send the Flyers packing in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons while knocking out Washington’s own superstar this year. While plenty of fans of those teams respect what Crosby does on the ice, they hate him for it. Others let their SCDS get the best of them, and they refuse to even acknowledge that Crosby is a good hockey player.
But that is only one reason, and it isn’t the main reason for SCDS.
Plenty of superstars have come before Crosby in team sports who have not generated the same level of frothing at the mouth and imbecilic statements that shadow Crosby wherever he goes.
Michael Jordan, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretzky were mostly admired, even by fans who watched them knock off their teams from year to year.
So, what is different about Crosby?
The primary difference is something that has absolutely nothing to do with Crosby: The NHL chose to make him the face of the league before he had really established himself on the ice. They had him out front and center before he even played his first game in the NHL.
He became the epicenter of the hockey universe.
And, despite the fact that he wasn’t old enough to drink or, apparently, shave, Sid performed that role valiantly, constantly engaging the media to increase the exposure of the NHL—a role that was sorely needed.
By helping to market the league, Crosby was helping all of his peers who were quick to vote against him when given the chance.
What is mainly at work in the Crosby hatred is what could be called the American Idol effect, named after the popular television show. If a performer on that show is constantly praised by the judges far more than all other performers, people start to resent it. Once they start to resent it, the votes start to shift away from that person.
Whether that person was better no longer really matters, nor does it matter that the person being praised is hardly at fault. People start to vote against him or her anyway.
The same thing is happening to Crosby.
People resent all the attention he gets from the media and the league and target that resentment at Crosby.
They resent that the Penguins are televised nationally more than other teams during the regular season.
They resent that Crosby remains the center of attention during each game.
That attention reached its peak during the Capitals series when the spotlight did indeed shine just a little too brightly on the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin show.
But, again, are the NHL and the media really to blame for overhyping that rivalry?
It is one of the rare cases where the two players actually lived up to the mountainous pre-game hype.
Most hockey fans, including me, would have liked to see more balanced coverage during that series, but the reality is the league wasn’t going to miss its chance to attempt to broaden its appeal by amping up the hype when its two highest profile players met in the playoffs.
Nor do I fault them for it.
Nor should anyone be surprised that the media took the most compelling storyline and overplayed it.
They always do.
Incidentally, the NBA risks the same thing happening to LeBron James, who is hyped even more than Crosby. I’m willing to bet that plenty of people are rooting against the Cavaliers because they are sick of hearing about James.
The third factor in SCDS is that Crosby has been so successful at such a young age.
The leadership mantle was passed to Crosby at a far younger age than is normal. He got the “C” added to his jersey at 19 years old, the youngest player ever to be given that honor.
Were the Penguins just trying to make history with that decision?
Maybe, but their faith has more than been rewarded.
Crosby has emerged as a superb leader, leading by example and by being willing to do the little things to inspire his team to greater heights. When your on-ice leader plays as hard as Crosby does every second he is on the ice, other players have no choice but to follow him.
While Crosby is criticized for having started a couple fights earlier in the season when the team was slumping, even that can be attributed to his inner fire and the desire to jump-start the team...something he feels he needs to do as the team’s leader.
This is a guy willing to do anything to inspire his team to greatness, even if he has to lose a fight in the process.
It is all too easy to forget that only this year did it become legal for Crosby to go into a bar in Pittsburgh and order a drink.
So, what about all the charges that he is a diver and whiner?
Frankly, they aren’t true, nor have they ever been true.
In his early years, Crosby was one of the only threats on a wretchedly bad Penguins team. As such, he got plenty of extra attention when he was on the ice, getting tripped, hooked, and finding more than a few high sticks directed at his face.
Are you really whining when you complain to the referees about a high stick that gashed your face to the point of requiring stitches while chipping teeth?
As the guy on the ice wearing the “C” on his jersey, it is Crosby’s responsibilities to engage the referees when he thinks his team is getting the short end of the hockey stick.
That isn’t whining...that is leadership.
He doesn’t go overboard. You don’t see him yelling at the refs or throwing tantrums on the ice. He is simply defending his team.
So, while fans from Philadelphia, Washington, and Carolina are checking themselves into hospitals around the country to be treated for SCDS, Crosby will be leading his Penguins into his second Stanley Cup finals in two years for a likely rematch against the Detroit Red Wings.
If it makes them feel any better...fans of the Red Wings can call him anything they want. They can even make fun of his playoff "beard."
I’m sure Crosby won’t mind a bit.