Tabloid-Style Sensationalism The Name Of The Game In Media Vs. NHL War

Aaron TomContributor IDecember 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 2:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is shown in a video camera screen as he addresses the media before a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers on October 2, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As hockey fans, we've seen it hundreds of times before:  A brutal headshot makes headlines on ESPN.com and gets featured on SportsCenter, or a fight that leaves a player unconscious is condemned between the pages of Sports Illustrated. 

Then, suddenly, hundreds of magazines and newspapers jump all over the ensuing coverage, offering their negative takes on the situation and ramming their worthless opinions down the throats of the public.

But the question is, where are these media outlets when the NHL does something positive? 

This is the kind of hypocritical, biased reporting that seems to run rampant in the United States. 

Publications that couldn't care less about the sport, and that don't even offer comprehensive ice hockey coverage, suddenly make front-page room to write about the latest "catastrophe", or the latest near-death scenario, while featuring a large, blown-up photograph of a motionless player lying on the ice with a background no doubt consisting of a temporary carpet of sticks and gloves, with referees attempting to break up an entanglement of enraged players.

Then writers are paid to "condemn" a sport that they have no knowledge of, freely borrowing and paraphrasing from dozens, if not hundreds, of other articles that have already beaten them to the punch. (Don't see what I mean?  Google "hockey headshots" and you get enough (mis)information for a dozen articles.)

SportsCenter, that sports highlight show on the cable channel that once carried hockey, but dropped it due to poorer-than-poor ratings, barely even cover the sport on a typical night of coverage, often neglecting to show any hockey clips whatsoever. 

But once a player's throat is cut, or a fight leads to a concussion, then they are all over it like they invented the sport, offering minutes upon minutes of "analysis" and "coverage" of the bleak situation. 

Perhaps in the eyes of hockey fans, this little fact can go unnoticed; we don't care how the media perceives our beloved sport. 

But put yourself in the shoes of a "normal" American sports fanatic, obsessed with any game that requires pigskin and completely oblivious to any sport that doesn't have "ball" at the end of its title.  What do they see?  How do they view our game?

As nothing more than a series of freak accidents and intentional attacks that routinely leave blood on the ice, and players on the injured-reserve list for weeks, if not months, at a time. 

Where's the mention of all the finesse, the skill, required to play the sport?  Where are the incredible displays of athleticism that could attract potential fans:  The miraculous diving saves, the unbelievable coast-to-coast goals, that should define our sport?

They're lost deep underneath a media machine that's more concerned with blowing a Sean Avery comment way out of proportion ("Sloppy seconds", seriously?  That got him suspended?  If Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens said it, no one would have even batted an eye) than it is to provide objective reporting.

Now I am certainly not making the NHL out to be the victim here.  To some extent, they deserve exactly what they are getting, from their inexplicable (and disturbing) procrastination in the task of stopping head shots, to their painfully obvious favoritism toward star athletes (Yes, they finally suspended Ovechkin.  But how many times did he get off the hook prior to that?  Any "normal" player would have been a "repeat offender" threefold by that time).

But what irks me is the two extremes with which the NHL receives coverage in average "mainstream" outlets:  They are either ignored, or vilified.  There is no middle ground.  The only way the casual sports fan knows the NHL is running smoothly isn't because they see outstanding highlights, or hear about a player reaching an important career milestone—it's because they don't hear anything about it at all.

I have no problems with actual hockey programs and magazines (i.e. Hockey Night in Canada, or The Hockey News) voicing their concerns for the sport, because that's what they're supposed to do:  Provide year-round hockey coverage, whether good or bad.  And they at least have enough knowledge of the game to offer alternatives and suggestions that the NHL should take to avoid such problems in the future.

But the outside media's constant criticism of the game is no doubt a huge reason why the sport will never catch on in America.

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Not only content with bashing a sport they don't fully understand, the outside media seems to see hockey's fans as bloodthirsty savages who revel in the fights and the sight of blood, yet turn a blind eye to the huge steps forward the sport has taken, from cutting back on the stickwork that dominated the pre-lockout NHL, to the evolution of its website from bottom end, to cutting edge, and on up to the incredible generosity of each team within their own communities.

Like any sport, hockey is dangerous by nature.  Also like any sport, injuries are unavoidable, and will always happen with some kind of regularity, no matter how strict the rules become. 

But the "coverage" that many supposedly "legitimate" publications give the game, is nothing more than tabloid-style sensationalism; scattered occurrences that are portrayed as nothing more than the norm. 

The NHL, and all its problems, should be between the NHL, the players, and the fans.

Everyone else needs to butt out.

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