Even by the perennially sour standards of the Bullets/Wizards, the hoops news here at week’s end is numbing. The city’s star hoopster, a gangster, will be sentenced in D.C. Superior Court today on a felony firearms charge. The star may go to prison, for five years. At least Gilbert Arenas is alive; Sean Taylor, who infamously slept with a machete under his bed, perished from the bullet of a gun in a circle-cycle of violence that increasingly envelops American contemporary pro team sports not named hockey.
Hockey’s great outrages involve things like an intoxicated 20-year-old bullying a cabbie, or Bruce Boudreau’s neckties viewed in high definition. And so we’re too boring to attract the committed attention of local traditional media.
Relatively speaking, anybody else really like being so boring?
I patronized an online college football forum earlier this week as I monitored news related to USC’s search for a replacement head coach. Troy hired a maestro of helmeted high school thugs, Lane Kiffin (career record: 12 -21), away from Tennessee. A commentator on this particular message board, presumably about my age, wondered, “It’s a cesspool everywhere you look in sports these days, isn’t it?” I empathized with the sentiment, but I also offered some solace: “Actually, I take sanctuary in hockey. No guns, no drugs, no Booyah, refreshing athlete humility across puck-playing cultures, and perhaps most endearingly, no ESPN.”
A fresh kerfuffle arose this week between old media and the region’s hockey fans, with Washington Post columnist/WJFK radio personality Mike Wise taking a fresh swipe at hockey supporters. No need to detail it; it’s of little lasting consequence. File it under brazen self promotion ploy/more orneriness from the dying in print. But what stood out to me about this dustup was the engagement over it between the ostensibly competing voices in the matter: Wise and his Post colleagues and the region’s hockey bloggers. Tweets were atwitter over it, with more light than heat exchanged, I thought.
The moment did remind of that news organization’s longstanding disdain for our game, and that’s not inconsequential. Sentiments such as Wise’s don’t fall out before the TV camera accidentally. But the vibrant discussion of the matter was executed almost exclusively on line, the liveliest and most persuasive reflections coming from the bloggers. I viewed it as very much an arrival moment. We were in the right, and the arguing was taking place on our turf.
Wise’s words occurred within a remarkable context: Washington suddenly has become a one-big-newspaper town again, “big” here also being a very relative word, and we locals are all worsened by that. And so necessarily of late there’s been heightened scrutiny of the lone print product’s product. In these initial weeks of printing without a top-flight competitor the Post sadly has reverted to its olden, pre-Ovi ways: gorging on Burgundy and Gold, over a coaching change, and lewdly languishing in the Gilbert Arenas imbroglio. To put it charitably, it’s been unseemly. Also, predictable.
Not that those news stories shouldn’t be related, and richly. But our local traditional media isn’t much known for distinguishing itself with a sense of proportionality . . . or balance. Moreover, there’s rarely if ever an uplifting counterpart to the cult of personality preoccupation by our local old press. And this seems especially so if the only uplifting story in town involves men in skates.
Wise’s words, you see, were uttered not far removed from John Carlson’s World Juniors heroism, and Wise’s newspaper’s wholesale ignoring it. Gracious, you don’t need a five-man team of hockey scribes at a media outlet to cut and paste a wire copy’s lead into a ‘Sports brief’ section for the next morning. Is it newsworthy that a cornerstone of the Capitals’ blueline for the next decade ended the Sovereign Hockey State’s 5-year hold on the world’s greatest hockey tournament, in sudden death fashion, in its own backyard? I think so. I might add: in our mega-beleaguered condition as a nation, that sort of national heroism is likely to carry even greater significance for no small number of Americans, even diehard Skins’ fans.
I’d have run a color photo of a celebrating Carlson on A1, partly in a tip of the hat to Washington’s full-on love affair with hockey, partly because such an international triumph doesn’t happen every day, and partly because of an old fashioned sensibility about what kind of relationship a paper ought to have with the community it serves: once in a while, it’s ok to lift us up when we’re really down.
Preceding Carlson’s feat by about 10 days was the Capitals’ trading of their team captain. The Post covered that with a single day’s straight news account and zero accompanying or following analysis. Par for the Post’s course. It’s a big deal when a team captain is dealt. It’s a bigger deal I think when it’s the team captain from the only remotely competitive team in town.
To get the heart of this matter, the Post actually is only minimally resourced to comment as relevant, thriving media should on such matters. Set aside hockey’s coverage for a moment; who at the Post today is ID-ed as a sophisticated and savvy voice on college football, someone say who can offer insightful analysis on the USC-Tennessee tinder box?
The larger point here is what the Post is doing to attempt to remain relevant in an era of compressed resources and cutting edge competition. It can’t possibly cover hockey with the finesse and sophistication demanded by hockey’s growing legions in this region, nor college football as say Yahoo does, so instead increasingly it traffics in the alternative to competency: celebrity-dom.
And so we read plenty of puffy prose related to Tiger Woods, Arenas, Snyder-Cerrato, etc. The cult of personalities often carries the sports page day here. That actually isn’t an entirely useless designation, as I seldom take a laptop to the men room’s stall.
Briefly last fall I got excited when as a whole the paper’s sports section, in both its print and electronic incarnations, at long last seemed to catch up with the invective of the region’s Redskins’ supporters, then turned cabal. Suddenly, the shilling for Snyder had halted. Suddenly, there was accountability demanded by the media. But it didn’t last. And we ended up where we did this week with Wise’s unwise words directed once again at hockey. Five years ago this would have been viewed here as the act of a bully. Today it’s merely ignorance emanating from irrelevance.
What should the Post do next in its slow death march? More radio and TV, I suppose. How about formally affiliating with the Redskins, just as the former WTEM did? Birds of a feather should flock together.