Yesterday, before the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Florida Panthers, Phil Kessel unleashed a rant unto the masses. At around 11:30 am he apparently called over the media and said, “I’m disappointed today, I think the way the media treats Dion Phaneuf in this city is embarrassing. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated like that.” There was much more to it than that, but these couple of sentences really do sum up what was on Kessel’s mind. Many of the sports talk show’s were all over this topic today. At the heart of the argument was the notion that the media is really starting to go too far in its analysis of players. I admit that as a fan, I started to question just what it is that I am looking for from the media in terms of hockey analysis.
Just what should we expect when it comes to reporting hockey in 2015? In talking to just about anyone about the state of the hockey media today, invariably it comes to a point in which the discussion takes a turn akin to, “Back in my day, hockey reporters knew their place, and so did the players. There was so much more respect in 1985.” We are definitely living in a different world in terms of the media landscape. The expectations for access are so much higher than they have ever been. Consider the Trade Deadline, in which the competing networks vie for “breaking” a trade. Really, at the end of it all, we are going to find out anyways. Its just the idea of finding out first, exclusivity, that we have come to crave. So why wouldn’t the mass media acquiesce to this notion?
Everyone likes to be in the know. That is essentially the function of social media outlet’s like Twitter. We get “unmitigated” access to celebrities and athletes. We are finally at a point that we are getting it from the horses mouth (or so it would appear, alas another topic for another day). So my question is, just because we can have the access, do we need the access? It is the classic want vs. need argument. Sure I can want a diamond studded iPhone case, but do I really need it? Let’s look at the case of Phil Kessel for a moment.
Since Phil Kessel has come to the Leafs, he has been under some of the most intense scrutiny that I can ever remember in Leafland. Now he is a holdover from the blustery days of Brian Burke. I’m sure many of us can identify with how absolutely certain Burke was with all of his player personnel decisions (say it with me….truculence!) Burke was never one to hide from the likes of the media, in fact I always felt like he really did embrace it, which was by and large a part of his act. Unfortunately, because Burke talked such a big game, I feel that the intense scrutiny that Kessel is now under has much to do with the grandstanding Burke did when he acquired him. Even though he came in for a 1st rounder, Burke was certain in Kessel’s worth. Then Tyler Sequin was drafted by the Boston Bruins and they won the Cup that same year. You really can’t write an end better than that. Now that is the millstone that Kessel has to wear. He will forever be linked, in some way, to a decision that he never made. Now we constantly hear rumblings about the ineffectiveness of Kessel. He doesn’t try hard enough. He is out of shape. He is surly with the media. He is a bad team mate, etc. When Kessel was drafted last at the All-Star Game in 2011, I’ll admit I didn’t think very much of his game. Looking back though, his time with the Leaf’s has been nothing short of impressive. According to quanthockey.com, in the last 5 years Kessel is 6th overall in scoring. Tied with Henrik Sedin, and ahead of the likes of Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. In that time he has 329 points in 359 games. That is impressive. Looking further down the stat line you see a stat that makes it glaringly obvious why Kessel receives so much criticism. In +/- he has a -60. Which is an awful stat. Also, helps me to ascertain how I feel about this issue though.
We should be crying foul about an elite scorer having a -60! That is a valid argument and a legitimate focus.
When looking at Kessel’s stats, one could strongly argue that the man does need to stop focusing on his One Job so much. We get it, you’re a goal scorer. Maybe get to know the defensive end a little bit. That is just my opinion though, and one that I feel members of the hockey media should be allowed to criticize.
Our fascination with celebrities isn’t anything that is new. Any time I find out that someone I know has met a celebrity, the first questions is usually a version of, “What are they like?” Which I think is fair. We all know that celebrities in all walks of life are putting on a show of some sort. We accept that, it’s part of the gig. When we find out that a celebrity is “nice”, it makes us happy. Maybe because it makes us feel that not everyone is corruptible. On the other hand, we are slightly disturbed when we find out that someone is a jerk. An indignant, “How dare they!”, comes over us. It is simply the nature of celebrity now. We are constantly watching and dissecting their every move. It is more or less a tabloid culture. Which is all fine and good, in the tabloids.
Admittedly, I love to hear so called “locker room stories”. The supposed real stories of the players and who they really are. We all have that friend of a friend that has direct access and know who these people really are. I’ve been hearing stories like that my whole life. Usually about hockey players, because that is the sport I have been around the most. It can fun sitting around a pub talking sports and sharing these stories. It is a part of the relationship in between the fan and the athlete, in my opinion. It is also rooted deeply in a fantasy world. As fans, we have no way of knowing these things, and it is really one step above (or below) starting rumours in high school.
Which is why it surprises me when reputable sports media outlets allow their stories to veer so far from the games that they are covering. Sure, we can speculate all day and night about if an athlete is; in shape or out of shape, having an affair with a teammates wife, doesn’t like someone in the room, etc. Really, what do those things have to do with the game being played? Sure, it may affect the overall product on the ice, but these guys are professionals. Shouldn’t we treat them as such? There are literally billions of people all over the world right now working somewhere in which their performance may be less than expected. Usually in a workplace, we allow people to be professionals, and to go about their business. If their performance is that bad, people get fired, or find another job. Although these players can’t get fired, they can request trades or go somewhere else when their contract is up. I don’t think it is fair that just because these people make millions of dollars that they should be scrutinized outside of their jobs to the level it is hitting.
I really do think it is important that we cover and analyze sports in general. If anything, Phil Kessel’s comments have opened up an important debate about journalistic integrity and ethics. I know some people will disagree with me. People in the limelight are signing off on the privileges the common folk covet. One of the prevailing attitudes is because they are making so much money. I just think that at the end of the day we do need to remember that these athletes/celebrities are people. They may be hardened by their time in the spotlight. The thing is, Kessel showed us this week that they aren’t that desensitized, and maybe some things are better left on the ice.
Think I’m an idiot? Post a comment below.