Monday, May 02, 2005

The Wonderful Wacky World of Hockey and those who cover the sport

As the wacky world of hockey, the National Hockey League continues its fall toward total obscurity; three issues have reared their ugly head in the last week which illustrates just how backward the sport of hockey is.
Issue One – a leading NHL agent is offered a forum to expose his views on the NHL lockout. Issue Two – members of the Canadian media and hockey fans have taken up the cause for Todd Bertuzzi the NHL player who assaulted Steve Moore in a game last March, ending Moore’s career. Issue Three – NHL owners have decided at least for the time being replacement players won’t be a part of their 2005-06 plans, which only makes sense if the league and its players association are close to an agreement. Taken separately it might be easy to suggest that on their own each subject may not represent a major problem to the league’s image, but when put together indicates just how terribly managed a professional sports league the NHL has become, and how badly the media covers the sports.
Last Sunday, The Lawrence Eagle Tribune featured an editorial by one of the greatest players in NHL history Bobby Orr. Orr contended in his editorial that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow should step aside for the good of the game in order that a labor agreement be reached. Orr as had been suggested in an earlier SBN Insider Report believes that it may be impossible for Bettman and Goodenow to reach an agreement. Orr made several great points in what was a well written piece. Orr’s prose aside, The Lawrence Eagle Tribune committed an unpardonable error in publishing Orr’s piece, at least in how they presented the article to their readership.
Bobby Orr is one of the greatest Boston Bruins in history and remains one of the five greatest players in hockey history. He has every right to speak his mind and again the stance he took closely mirrors positions taken by SportsBusinessNews.com. However, the error in judgment made by the paper is in that they had the responsibility to make it abundantly clear to their readership that Orr is an NHL agent and therefore derives a significant portion of his current income from NHL players. And what the paper needed to point out was that Bobby Orr has lost that ability to earn a living directly as a result of the NHL lockout.
In an accompanying piece Russ Conway one of hockey’s more respected writers did note that Orr was an agent, offering these six words of clarification in a 500 word article: “operates a hockey player sports agency”. Did the paper note that Bobby Orr was an agent? If six words in a 500 word sidebar represent full disclosure then yes they made it clear, but no six words at the end of a sidebar written by the papers Associate Editor is not acceptable. Sports journalism suffers from enough stigmatisms. The Lawrence Eagle had the moral and ethical responsibility to make it clear in Orr’s byline and in Conway’s lead that Orr is a leading NHL agent. Clearly as an agent Bobby Orr was directly in a position of a conflict of interest. Shame on The Lawrence Eagle Tribune.
Sports journalism on the best of days suffers from too many writers being offered platforms to express their opinions. Sunday’s Ottawa Citizen offered an example of a sports columnist offering prose that may have been best left out of his column.
Hugh Adami the sports section’s Sunday columnist offered his views on Steve Moore. For those who may have forgotten Moore is the former Colorado Avalanche player who had his career ended when he was attacked by Todd Bertuzzi in the closing moments of an NHL game last March. The NHL suspended Bertuzzi indefinitely. Last week Bertuzzi met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seeking reinstatement. Regardless of whether or not NHL hockey returns this fall, Bertuzzi wants his suspension lifted so that he might be able to play hockey in Europe this fall. Bertuzzi’s NHL suspension has been recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation and prevents Bertuzzi from playing professional hockey anywhere.
Aside from whether or not Todd Bertuzzi should be allowed to play hockey again (he will be allowed to return soon enough unlike Steve Moore), the Canadian media seemingly has turned Steve Moore into the villain. As unimaginable as it may be, a young man who will suffer for the rest of his life directly as a result of Todd Bertuzzi’s actions is now the bad guy.
Some of the highlights of Adami’s piece in Sunday’s Ottawa Citizen including the following:
Is it my imagination, or is Steve Moore beginning to look like a weenie in his apparent mission to extract a pound of flesh from Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi?
After all, it wasn't as if Moore was taken hostage and gunned down in a botched robbery by a career criminal. Moore, a bit of an agitator himself, was attacked 14 months ago in what is characteristically a violent game by an opponent who showed he could be as much a goon as a really good hockey player.
It was clear from his first news conference in late March 2004 that Moore was in an unforgiving mood, despite Bertuzzi's weeping apology broadcast live in Canada and the U.S. a few days following the incident.
Moore may want to consider the accident in which Dan Snyder of the Atlanta Thrashers was killed when teammate Dany Heatley lost control of his speeding Ferrari, about six months before the Bertuzzi-Moore incident.
There is a great deal more insight Adami offered, and he suggested in his close that it might be in Moore’s best interest to stop being a weenie. To compare the tragic accident that ended the life of Dan Snyder to the mugging of Steve Moore just doesn’t make any sense. Dany Heatley and Dan Snyder were involved in a terrible accident that ended Snyder’s life. Bertuzzi has been found guilty of assault causing bodily harm in a plea bargain last December. Bertuzzi is facing a multi-million dollar civil suit from Moore that could rock hockey to its foundation if Bertuzzi’s actions are found to have been premeditated. However, Adamai’s suggestions that Moore is weak for not being able to forgive Todd Bertuzzi again suggests sports writers are lacking both morals and ethics. And the opinions of Hugh Adami (a columnist more often then not very well respected by SBN) are shared by many other Canadian sports writers.
The NHL’s Board of Governors recently decided their immediate plans for the 2005-06 season would not include the use of replacement players. Either the NHL and the NHLPA are very close to a labor agreement or the league is misguided in their belief that the league will suffer little if any damage as a result of losing a year in terms of being able to sell their product.
In order to market the 2005-06 season the NHL will have to rebuild its image from the ground-up. More importantly the member franchises are going to have to put a great deal of effort and commitment into rebuilding their season ticket base, and that’s where the NHL’s decision to not move forward with a 2005-06 season until the league reaches a new labor agreement becomes interesting.
Does anyone currently working for the National Hockey League or an NHL franchise honestly believe they’ll be able to sell season tickets before they have a new labor agreement? Why would anyone who had enough faith in the NHL and invested their money in season tickets for a cancelled 2004-05 season be prepared to again write a check to any NHL franchise for a season that may never take place? And for that matter would it make any sense for any NHL franchise to invest the time, money and effort into a season ticket campaign when they are not able to firmly commit to delivering their product?
One issue remains clear in looking at the NHL labor problems; the league continues to lack the leadership it needs to reach a new labor agreement? If Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow haven’t been able to reach a labor accord in time to save an entire season, it doesn’t make any sense to believe they are capable of reaching an agreement now. As for the media, (The Lawrence Eagle Tribune and The Ottawa Citizen examples), the media are afforded an opportunity to offer their views and often influence public opinion. Its not a matter of whether or not an opinion is right or wrong, it is about the media understanding the responsibility that goes along with that platform.
For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom