Sidney Crosby returned to NHL action on November 21, 2011, after 10 months of recovery from a concussion sustained in January.
Sidney Crosby is a luminary athlete who comes along once in a lifetime, one who can negotiate the regimen of an ice sheet 200 x 85 feet with such deft and precision that the other eleven men on the ice with him appear to be moving at half-speed. Before he was legally able to rent a car, Sidney Crosby's play has garnered all of the major individual awards the NHL gives to its most outstanding players. And by all accounts it appears as if he's just getting started.
Then in the 2011 Winter Classic, Crosby suffered a concussion, and aggravated the injury the following game. Before last night's game versus the Islanders, Crosby had not skated a shift in an NHL game since January 5.
Just like the rest of us
When the human head is struck hard enough to jar one's brain against the neurocranium, the result is a concussion—derived from Latin words meaning shaking violently and striking together. This affliction has laid low many a career before Crosby's, jeopardizing and postponing untold scores more.
Yet Crosby is just like every other NHL player that has been victimized by this devastating injury. He deserves our positive thoughts, well-wishes and prayers, but he does not deserve the limelight of the NHL when he is recuperating from injury for nearly a year excused from regulation ice time.
A playoff postseason was played and history was made without Crosby. Another season has opened with great anticipation and fanfare, with more than 600 players lacing up their skates every night and leaving it all on the ice. Every night, new stars are born and new heroes are forged, stories crystallized in the hearts and minds of fans around the world.
Crosby, as talented as he is and what he means to the Pittsburgh Penguins, is still one man, with one locker stall and one pair of skates, and is just as frail as the men on either side of him. No player should be valued this highly, because what happens when he sustains serious injury or retires?
Going all in
Time and again, the precious little coverage devoted to the NHL in the major sports outlets is often devoted to the glacial pace of Crosby's recovery, in a round-the-clock news ticker befitting of the Kardashians, complete with #crosbywatch hashtags.
While Penguins fans may argue that he has earned this media coverage, it is coming at the expense of players and teams that are, you know, actually playing. Today, Sid skated for his doctors, he participated in a no-contact morning skate, he talked to the media. Dan Bylsma said his progress was good—the stuff that Tumblr is made of.
At any given time during the summer, the Penguins' Bleacher Report page had half a dozen stories about Crosby, each less informative than the one before it. With each story, each news tidbit or press conference with Penguins brass, we are reminded of how the NHL continues to suffer from putting all its eggs in the no. 87 basket.
Crosby's injury, unfortunate as it is to the league and the Penguins, could have been and hopefully was a proving ground for how effectively the league can maintain and improve its image still recovering from the 2004-05 lockout.
You’re doing it wrong
When Peyton Manning was lost early on to a season-ending injury, the NFL spent a weekend on Manning and the Colts and then moved on, not missing a beat. The NHL, by contrast, was in many ways treading water during Crosby's recovery, but not because of dearth of marketable personalities and talent.
The NFL's marketing model can, pun intended, absorb a substantial hit and move on. The NFL, because of their strong regional marketing, is the only major North American sports league able to support franchises in markets like Jacksonville and Green Bay. The NHL, with the perennial lowest ratings of the four major leagues would do well to learn from the NFL how to market locally, to embrace talented players leaguewide.
The NFL's local exposure is unparalleled—every sports bar, gas station, sporting goods store and fast-food chain is festooned with the local NFL team's swag. With teams on the move and in search of financial solvency, the NHL's poor marketing shares some of the blame, by only pitching a couple of individual players—Crosby far and away the favorite—and just a couple of teams.
Until then, the NHL remains largely the Sidney Crosby show. There is a whole league full of stardom, of untapped marketing potential to insist upon cramming Sidney Crosby down the sporting universe's throat. With the NBA entrenched in a lockout, the NHL is in pole position for all the media marbles after the Lombardi trophy is handed out.
While the league is more interesting to the casual observer with Crosby, as a fan who loves the game, who played it and has a background in consumer advertising, my opinion is it'd be a pity for the NHL to not take advantage of this golden opportunity by failing to showcase a broader array of players and teams.