Hockey is an Asshole

In what was already arguably the worst ever off-season for a sport, hockey’s annus horribilis continued Wednesday morning with the news that a Russian aircraft carrying the Continental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed into the Volga River, killing all but two passengers, including the KHL team’s coaches and players who were on-board. Hockey’s already tragic summer took a turn towards the incomprehensible, and in a fashion that was at once consistent, appalling, and in-and-of-itself tragic, the hockey establishment, the Canadian hockey community, and the so-called journalists who cover the sport for a living (now commonly referred to, in deference to those who don’t have diplomas in Sports Journalism from the University of Phoenix or dropped out of DeVry, as the mainstream media) were able to offend the tradgedy in a way that only they can seemingly manage to do.

I should note that both Bruce Dowbiggin at The Globe & Mail and Greg Brady from the Fan 590 were excellent in bringing light to the failures of their colleagues. Dowbiggin noted the irresponsible tweeting of the Fan 590’s Barb DiGiulio, who reposted incorrect information from the CBC’s website stating that Canadian hockey player and brother of Toronto Maple Leaf Colby Armstrong, Riley Armstrong, was among the dead. He was not, and DiGiulio committed the unpardonable sin of not fact checking on a reported death. Perhaps DeVry should look into their failing curriculum. Ms. DiGiulio did not apologize for egregious error, instead tweeting: “I was not stating it as fact, but as a report. My error was in my wording. ‘We are hearing’ should have been ‘CBC reports’.” I would argue that her error was, besides adhering to the most basic rules of journalism and sense of moral responsibility, that she’s a typically negligent Canadian sports journalist whose failures have been cultivated by a lazy and insulated community.

Dowbiggin also credited Brady, who shed light on another travesty, a sickening display that further illuminates how out of touch the hockey community is from reality, and how most hockey journalists are unwilling or unable to hold the sport accountable for its continually abominable actions. At 12:30pm EST on the day of the crash, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins scheduled a news conference to discuss Crosby’s ongoing concussion issues. Penguins GM Ray Shero prefaced the conference by issuing a statement of condolence to the Locomotiv’s families and friends. But, as Brady wonderfully and responsibly tweeted, why was the conference held at all? It was a slight of the tragedy, and an example of how self-indulgent and insulated the community is. All of this, of course, made worse by the fact that Mr. Crosby himself made not one mention of the crash. And, in typically irresponsible hockey media fashion, not one reporter present asked him about it. Wasn’t it their duty, morally, ethically, and professionally, to ask: “Sidney, does this morning’s plane crash at all put your plight in perspective?” But, of course, this question did not come. Instead what they asked was more in line with: “Sid, you’re pretty awesome, and do you think there’s a chance that your awesomeness gets any awesomer upon your inevitable return?”

No one else questioned Crosby, the Penguins, or the NHL for allowing the press conference to take place. Damien Cox of The Star rolled Crosby into the the bad year. A concussion is unfortunate Mr. Cox, but not tragic. Many “news” outlets wrote of Brad McCrimmon’s colourful nicknames. CBC.ca wrote about Riley Armstrong not being among dead as if it had broke the story and not perpetrated it. Roy MacGregor wrote the following, which led me to believe he may be suffering from post-concussion symptoms:

While some thought that Crosby might have cancelled his news conference in deference to the Russian tragedy, the fact that he went ahead with it on such a dark day produced the first light the game has seen in weeks when he called for a complete ban on hits to the head. As he put it, “I don’t think there’s a reason not to take them out.”

Such a statement obviously has no relevance to air safety in Russia, but given the recent tragedies involving the troubled enforcers, Crosby’s call for NHL action could conceivably lead to lives being saved in the future.

Wow. Congratulating Crosby for making an innocuous half-statement. Why don’t you buy him dinner and a drink, and take him to see Harry Potter, Roy? I’m embarrassed by this community, and especially the hockey writers.

Perhaps the worst offender was Pierre LeBrun of ESPN and sometimes CBC, who by 5:07PM the next day was crediting Crosby statement as desire to ban head shots, and creating “momentum with his comments,” which is like crediting Lindsay Lohan for her contribution to the War on Drugs and fighting child obesity. Of course, LeBrun is the same so-called hockey journalist who wrote the following on Sportsnet.ca after a QMJHL brawl in 2008:

When did the tree huggers take over this bloody country?  When did we all become such bleeding hearts that a junior hockey brawl shocked our collective senses so badly we became outraged?…Cripes, if anyone should be criticized it should be [Nadeau] for standing there like a Nancy Boy and not trying to defend himself when Roy came after him.

How enlightened, Pete. What kind of a populace would be upset with teenagers beating each other mercilessly? And to call a teenage boy who was, god forbid, uneasy with fighting, an anti-homosexual slur. Well, that’s a new benchmark in journalistic integrity. And to think three years later LeBrun has a job. Of course, he does. Because calling a teenager a ‘Nancy Boy’ in national web media is fine as long as it is within the confines of hockey. In fact, it’s encouraged in a community where ignorance is celebrated, and enlightened discourse is for pansies who don’t understand the game.

It’s hard to blame Crosby. I mean, the kid is 24. At 24 there was very little I was capable of, and I certainly don’t envy him. He’s a product of the corrupted and insulated old boys club that governs the sport and dictates its moral direction. The poor kid gave his first interview at seven years old. He moved away from home at thirteen, but mostly because of the abusive nature of the hockey parents and community in Nova Scotia. By seventeen he was in the national spotlight, at eighteen he was living in Mario Lemieux’s basement, and as the game’s most recognizable star the game itself should have given him the life skills to know it was horribly improper to even have the press conference, let alone not even give the simplest of prepared statements on the crash.  Not only did the community not provide those skills, but the Penguins organization, his agents, publicists, and general hangers on all allowed the omission.

Athletes who transcend sport are those who realize both their insignificance in the universe, and the incredible yet finite power they have within it. Steve Nash. Muhammed Ali. Pat Tillman. Roberto Clemente. But hockey, for some reason, is missing these benevolent souls. Its insulation is unparalleled in sport, and the hockey media refuses to confront its subject as is their responsibility. Hockey is like the guest who continually shows up to your dinners and parties without an offering of wine. Are they fun to have over? Yes. Do they make the evening more enjoyable? Yes. Do you invite them back? More often than not. But, honestly, if you come into my home you better have brought me a decent bottle of red. It’s simple manners. It’s something instilled in you by your parents, or your friends. But the hockey community has no parents. And its friends are all afraid to tell hockey it’s an asshole.

For further reading take a gander at an earlier post about the passing of Wade Belak et al. and how hockey has been failing young men for generations.