Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Just a Bunch of Characters

This long hiatus between games (which thankfully will be ending tomorrow night) has given me time to reflect a little more on my love of the game. I know what you're thinking - excellent, because we didn't get enough sappy crap last time around.


Actually, my reflections this time are focused more on the players themselves and grew out of a brief stop on ESPN while channel-surfing a few days ago. The ticker at the bottom of the screen was on NBA, and here’s what it said: “According to police, Pacers G/F Stephen Jackson fired 5 shots after someone punched him and tried to run him over with a car early Friday morning outside an Indianapolis strip club.”

What surprised me about this was that I wasn’t surprised. Try replacing “Pacers G/F Stephen Jackson” with “Cardinals QB Matt Leinart” or “Cowboys WR Terrell Owens”. Still sounds somewhat normal, right? Now change that name to “Capitals D Ben Clymer” or “Flames RW Jarome Iginla” and it becomes jarring.

The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball are always fighting off scandals involving drugs, alcohol, weapons, violence, etc. That’s not to say that hockey players are perfect – we all remember Theo Fleury’s drug problems, Eddie Belfour beating his wife, the unfortunately nicknamed
“Operation Slapshot” from this past summer, and everything that has come out of Sean Avery’s mouth. The difference is that it’s much rarer. The entire NHL gets a jolt when scandal erupts, and it is still usually “scandal-lite” compared to anything the NFL or NBA has dealt with in the past - still delicious, but half the calories and jail time...

I’m no expert, but I see the main difference between the NHL and other leagues as something that is among the NHL’s biggest issues lately – money. There’s no epiphany there; everyone knows that the NHL is a small-market league, banking on revenue largely from ticket sales alone. As a result, players’ salaries are routinely lower than the astronomical figures paid out to football, baseball, and basketball players.

Basically, it’s not that I think all football players, basketball players and baseball players are evil or driven to be troublemakers, at least not at the start. I actually enjoy baseball (love my Nats and Bo Sox!) and contrary to my frequent tirades against the NFL, I don’t hate football – I’ve even been known to watch a game or two. Money and fame really do change people, and hockey is just a sport where players are more anonymous and lower paid as a whole.

The reason I love NHL players the most, though, is that because they are so often regarded as the poor little stepsister in professional sports, they maintain that humility and accessibility that sets them apart from other athletes. They make less money, yet most of them just seem to be grateful they get paid at all for doing something they love to do – a sentiment I find to be lacking in all other sports.

Essentially everything I love about hockey players can be boiled down to what I love about the Caps - the character and down to earth quality that makes them that much easier to root for. Of course, I consider the Caps to be more entertaining and nicer than the rest of the league, but that's just me and my biased ways. For proof, check out these three articles from the last day or two as the local media's infrequent but ongoing love affair with our boys continues: Dan Steinberg’s recounting of
a chance encounter at a Wizards game...Capitals Insider w/ Ben Clymer...and Dave Fay’s profile of Olie Kolzig. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more! :)