We have all heard the expression, “don’t drink the kool-aid,” referring to a group or base of people that espouse a certain idealogy, whether founded in fact, half-truths or out and out bias. Certainly, NHL fans, writers, bloggers and broadcasters, as well as front office people, have fit this profile snuggly at times while coming to the rescue of their “own” players. Whether it’s Mario Lemieux lambasting another team’s “thug” while overlooking Matt Cooke’s antics, leaves people to wonder how normally well respected G.M.’s, hockey men, fans and the media can see things so myopically.
So it is to no one’s surprise then that what we heard from the Lightning’s broadcast booth last night in Montreal, is just another case of overdosing on the Kool-aid. The scenario went like this. Vinny Lecavalier and P.K. Subban, the iracible rookie defenceman of the Canadiens, were jostling in front of Carey Price. After a few pokes at each other the puck made it’s way around the boards where Lecavalier circled behind the net and then back out to the slot. That’s when he took a vicious two-hander to the mid section of Subban; who crumpled like paper-mache doll to the ice.
It should be noted that this “incident” wasn’t included in the NHL’s, “game in six” highlights.”
I’ve often wondered if NHL PR departments should hold seminars for their broadcasters letting them know that with NHL Gamecenter, the NHL Center Ice package and various other internet outlets; that they are no longer being heard by just their local market. Nightly,their broadcasts and hence voices are being heard world-wide and certainly all over North America.
Bobby “the Chief” Taylor, long time TV color man for the Lightning had this to say about the incident after Subban fell writhing in pain. Sarcastically he pointed out, “do ya think this is embellishment?” When he noticed only Lecavalier was headed toward the penalty box, he added, “You gotta be kidding me?” When Lecavalier’s game misconduct was announced, he lamented further with all the journalistic crediblity he has come to be known for, “How can you tell we’re in Canada?” Apparently Bobby Taylor forgot where he grew up? Or maybe his loyalty is inexorably linked to his wallet? His play by play partner paused, then fell silent.
Now, I am sure in Tampa and the surrounding suburbs, where some fans are still grasping the fundamentals of this great game played on, of all things, ice, that his remarks had a familiar tone. This type of favoritism may have been acceptable in the early 90’s when a floundering franchise was founded and needed all the positive spin it could muster. But by my recollection, Jeff Vinik, the new owner of the Lightning has continually stated that he wants to make this Lightning franchise a first class organization?
Earlier this season I heard a clever radio interview of New Jersey play by play man, Doc Emrick. In 2008, Emrick won the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award by the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not only is Emrick one of the great voices in hockey today but he’s also a thoughtful man. A question was posed to the effect of how hard is it to maintain “neutrality” when covering a team? And how the host noticed that he was one of the best at this. His answer was astute and consumately professional. I’ll paraphrase. Because of my background in journalism I feel it is my responsibilty to call the game the way it happens, without personal bias. He also added, I believe as a way of protecting some of his not so professional colleagues, that it is difficult not to root for guys you are around all the time, travel with and dine with. Well said Mr. Emrick. Yet he maintained that journalistic integrity is still very very important to him!
To be sure, most broadcasters constantly fight their exuberance for the team with which they are paid to cover, with a self-imposed, tempered and balanced approach. Call it professional integrity.
I’m reminded of a story told to me in the late 1990’s after a former junior hockey player had attended a game at the St. Pete Times Forum. He was chuckling recounting a moment in the stands during the game. Seems like some fans in front of him, all adults, were yelling at the Lightning players to, “get the ball!” After about a half of period like this he politely leaned forward and relayed the revelation that hockey was played with a puck. They were all thankful, smiled, and from then on had learned something about the game.
It appears that the Mr. Taylor, after all these years, has “learned” that being a “homer” for the Lightning is still in his job description? And although we all know now that hockey is played with a puck, in this instance the “Chief” may have dropped the ball!”