I get in my car to head to pick-up hockey Wednesday night, the night the Red Wings clinched a rematch in the Stanley Cup finals. The radio is tuned to a sports station that has a decent morning show, but in the evening they run one of those syndicated shows by a loudmouth generalist who rants about T.O. or A-Rod or Kobe Bryant or his fantasy team for three hours a night.
Didn't catch his name -- and the particular sports network's jingles and failed branding attempts aren't really relevant to the story.
Anyway, the show accidentally veers toward hockey for a second, so I hesitate before turning on some Underworld to go to a happy place. With the Wings-Blackhawks game having just ended, I hear the tail end of this exchange between caller and host:
Caller: "Disappointing end to the season, but I just hope people realize the Hawks are the next Red Wings, with all the young talent they have."
(Okay, a bit of a leap. The Red Wings are something else which might not be replicated, but I get what the caller is saying: Don't be down, the Hawks are clearly on the way up.)
Loudmouth Host: "No doubt, no doubt. That market just needs a big star. That market needs a Crosby or Ovechkin to really bring them in. Which I'm sure they'll get through free agency."
(Um, what? Come again? That "market," which packed the United Center all season, "needs" something to excite people? And it's a star they need? A star like "a Crosby or Ovechkin" -- who grow on trees -- which will surely come via free agency?)
Caller, now wondering why he bothered, attempts to explain: "Well they have Kane and Toews, who are pretty big deals and still just 20 and 21, so..."
Loudmouth Host (cuts caller off): "Okay, my listeners aren't interested in the depths of the Blackhawks roster -- they just want to know whether Chicago will be able to beat Detroit this time next year.
But thanks for calling. It's good to hear from a hockey fan, to know they have a pulse. The producers always tell me we're heard in Canada, but I don't know. Do they ever call? Where are these people? Anyway, LeBron James..."
That, in a nutshell, is the state of mainstream U.S. sports media's relationship with the hockey fan. This blowhard, in about 20 seconds of air time, demonstrated that he really has no clue what's going on in the NHL, but he'd like to pretend otherwise so that he can sound like an expert generalist both for his audience and for hockey fans -- in the event they are listening -- because they ought to be burning up the phone lines to join the engaging discourse on his show.
In fact, to all those hockey fans "with a pulse" out there, your fearless show host demonstrated that he:
- Has no idea what happened in Chicago this year
- Has no inkling of what role Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews serve -- "the depths," apparently -- on Chicago's roster
- Has heard of Crosby and Ovechkin; is pretty sure they are good
- Has no clue how rare a talent Crosby and Ovechkin are
- Doesn't know who might be available in free agency this summer, but thinks surely there is a Crosby out there
Yet this guy thinks hockey fans -- if they exist and "have a pulse" -- should bother to both listen to and call his show, wait on hold for however long radio callers wait for the chance to impart wisdom over the air, in order to have an enlightening exchange like the one above, on the eve of the signature series in their sport. I love it.
These are the guys in "mainstream" sports media who rip hockey for not having more exposure -- or because they don't like hockey but as sports "experts" they want to have a credible reason to neglect it -- yet whenever it receives such exposure, they handle it like that. "Inept" does not begin to describe it. "Like political talk radio" is a little closer to the mark.
And that is why, while I understand the NHL's business motive to get more mainstream attention, I think such attention won't do a lick for me. (Sorry for hitting this tangential topic twice this week, but the host's clueless indignation made me chuckle.) In the Web-enabled multichannel 21st-century world, that sort of outlet is for the casual fan. The hardcore fan doesn't need to sift through that mainstream filter with desperate hands to taste its tiny ration of hockey info. There is relevant content -- even informed discourse! -- bursting at the seams all around us. Yet we should be calling this guy to discuss how the Hawks can sign Ovechkin.
Alright, next topic. Kobe Bryant: DOES. HE. HAVE IT?... Talk to me...