By Rob Ficiur
Twenty-first century sports fans can know more about their favorite teams than we did 50 years ago. Back in the pre-internet, pre-sports TV years, fans were happy to know the scores and (if we were lucky) we knew who scored the goals. Why in 2014 are sports fans just as interested in the players and owners bashing each other as they are in the on filed results? Events of the last few weeks have led me to three conclusions why we love the Sports Gossip as much as the games:
1. We already believe the worst of some teams (players)
The week before NHL training camp opened the President of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Tim Lieweke told reporters “there are players we have in our organization today whose numbers are off the chart good and whose character is just terrible.”
Anti-Toronto Maple Leaf fans loved his words. We already “knew” that the Toronto “Make Beliefs” is a team made up of soft players who won’t pay the price to win. After their 2013 playoff collapse against Boston and missing the playoffs in 2014 fans outside of Toronto knew he team had no character; but now the Team President proved we were right.
What did Lieweke really mean? The Leafs President later clarified that “I find it amusing anyone can assume I was talking about a specific Leaf player.” Maybe fans were quick to jump to conclusions or perhaps he was talking about a player on the Toronto FC soccer team. However, coming from Lieweke, someone who has been around the NHL for more than ten years, it is hard to believe that he spoke without thinking. His quick apology and clarification makes me think he “accidentally on purpose” said something that might motivate and or humiliate his players. The fact that Lieweke had already announced he will leave Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment no later than June 2015 means he can say what he wants because he has already quit the job he expects to hold for another nine months.
2. Aging Stars Talk like they were 20 Years Younger –
This week retired Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne bashed last year’s coach, Bruce Boudreau for not using him properly (giving him more ice time). Even back in the pre-internet days, players did not agree or always like their coaches. Montreal Canadiens forward Steve Shutt said that he hated coach Scotty Bowman 364 days of the year – but the day they got their Stanley Cup rings he liked the coach. Shutt made his comments long after the spotlight had left him and the Canadiens. Selanne made his comments only weeks after his retirement. Fans read his words and wonder why the coach would give a 43 year old forward more playing time when he only had nine goals during the regular season. Had the Ducks won the Cup would Selanne have felt different? Not likely, since Selanne also bashed former Ducks coach Randy Carlyle for pushing the players too much. Did Carlyle push them too hard back in 2007 when the Ducks won the Cup?
Fans like to know the behind the scenes stories about their teams. All teams have disagreements. Having them come to light allows us to take sides.
3. Rookie Assistant Coach or Star Player?
Fans often feel that coaches get no respect from superstars. This week the story broke that rookie Assistant Coach Steve Spott said that Leafs Star Phil Kessel said he would not follow their newly devised break out of the zone plan. The truth of this story – if there is one exact truth – was lost as soon as the media got it. A casual comment by Coach Spott at a coaching clinic went viral. A rookie assistant coach learned quickly to watch what he said.
Fans did not mind. We all “knew” that one of the Leafs’ players without character referred to by President Tim Lieweke was Phil Kessel this proved our already proven assumption that stars are too full of themselves to listen to a coach.
Steve Spott would not be the first coach to suggest a plan that might not work; or might not be the best use of his personnel. Steve Spott played zero games in the NHL – maybe Phil Kessell’s opposition to the new plan is based on sound NHL experience.
Forget the Facts we Have Our Opinions – In all of these stories (and the ones to come) fans only know what the media tells them. This is great because we can then form – and confirm – our previous opinions about players and teams. We listen to the 24 hours of sports commentary because they support our opinion – or we turn them off because we “know the real truth”