Tag Archives: NHL

Don’t React: Prevent

6 Feb

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where winning my Super Bowl against-the-spread bets never gets old.

Last week the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation created a serious PR situation for itself.  If you’ve been under a rock, they denied a grant to Planned Parenthood for politically charged reasons.  A media and public firestorm ensued, and after a couple days of growing heat, they changed their tune and said they’d give money to Planned Parenthood after all.

Instead of focusing on the aftermath, like so many PR people have, I’d rather spend my time on something else.  This was a completely preventable, self-generated PR crisis.  Sometimes bad things happen that you have to react to…this was NOT one of those times.  Komen management chose its path, and then couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen.  Ugh.

It’s kind of similar to what happened in pro hockey recently.  The Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins made their trip to the White House to greet the President and receive his congrats on their title, as is tradition for champion teams in sports.  But goaltender (and supposed team leader) Tim Thomas chose not to go, making it known instead that he doesn’t support the government’s actions.  The issue?  He chose to leverage a highly public event to make an individual political statement, at the expense of his teammates and his organization.  The result?  People didn’t celebrate the team’s title – instead, they focused on skewering Thomas, calling him a selfish man and a bad teammate among other things.  Did the hockey world know about his personality before this?  Maybe.  But the average hockey fan sure didn’t, and there’s no doubt Thomas hurt his reputation both in and out of the locker room with his actions.  You’d better believe Thomas will notice the effect on his next free agent contract.

What have we learned?  Two things:

1)  Come on people – think and plan ahead.  Based on the public firestorm and reaction around both events, it seems to me that neither entity really thought through their actions/statements before they made them.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t have done them.  Backlashes like these are completely avoidable with some forethought and common sense.  If they were so naive or insulated as to truly believe there wouldn’t be a backlash, well, they sure learned their lesson.

2)  If you’re going to make a decision/announcement/news event, then at least have the guts to stick by it.  As unpopular as Komen’s decision became, it was made because they felt it was the right thing at the time – and there is a segment of the population out there that would have supported them on that.  Thomas stuck to his guns, but the flip-flopping Komen has only cast doubt among its staff, donors and those they serve about what kind of organization they are and what they really stand for.  The only thing worse than having a negative identity is having no identity at all…until they show who they are now with their actions, and make that case over time, the effects of last week will linger.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Wes Welker.

How Physical Should Hockey Be?

23 Jan

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we still hope someday that the NFL will implement college-style overtime rules…or at least extend the playoff-only changes to all games.

If you haven’t heard the sad story of Jack Jablonski, click here. In short, a promising high school hockey player and athlete from the Minneapolis area was paralyzed when he was checked from behind (he was defenseless) into the boards during a recent game. It wasn’t a dirty or goonish play like you sometimes see for all the wrong reasons on SportsCenter, but it happened nonetheless.  And ever since, the debate over how physical the game of hockey should be – especially for younger kids – has raged here in the State of Hockey.  It’s the most passionate I’ve ever seen people on the topic of violence in hockey, and that’s saying something…entire NHL teams, elite athletes from several sports, Taylor Swift and others have checked in on Jablonski and added fuel to the fire.

Already, in mid-season, the Minnesota State High School League and other youth hockey governing bodies here have voted to immediately implement strict rules on checking from behind in an effort to eliminate these kinds of injuries.  Any check from behind (and sometimes from the side) is an automatic 5-minute major penalty now, and could be grounds for ejection and/or suspension.  This zero-tolerance approach is meant to teach kids from their earliest years on the ice a cleaner, healthier way of playing the game.  It’s going to take a generation perhaps for the changes to truly take hold, but I think most anyone who hasn’t been hit too many times in the head sees the moves as a big step in the right direction.

This, of course, follows a disastrous summer for the sport in which several former NHL players, including Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, died of brain and other medical issues.  Boogaard, according to an excellent three-part series from the New York Times, had a brain as damaged by head trauma as any athlete that brain experts have ever seen.  The effects of that kind of damage, even if the athletes live, spell doom for their chances of leading a high-quality life in their middle to late years.  Should the league step in and help out?  Should players be compensated for their pain and battlescars, or get help paying their bills?  It’s the same kind of thing we saw NFL players go to war over in their labor battles with owners last summer.

Youth hockey organizations in Minnesota, to their credit, are acting now to make the game safer.  The NHL, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything outside of somewhat harsher punishments for dirty play.  Now the league finds itself at a critical fork in the road, each with its own pros and cons.  It can maintain the status quo, or it can choose to really get tough.  Let’s face it – fighting, hitting and physical play help sell the league to casual fans.  It helps the league drive up TV revenues.  It helps keep teams without as much talent competitive and in the hunt for the playoffs.  But, as documented, it takes a heavy human toll.  Besides the three dead former players, take Sidney Crosby…the best player in the league, coming off a brilliant 2010 Olympics, has spent most of the last two seasons on the shelf with a concussion.  How can the league continue to grow and market itself when its best stars aren’t on the ice – or at risk of leaving the ice for good with every passing shift?  And does the league really want all the negative attention and PR it’s bound to get the more that injuries and deaths come to light?  With the bigger/faster/stronger trend of athletes today, it’s just a matter of time.

It’s not for me to decide of course, but the NHL has to take a hard look at this and decide what it wants its future to be and what role should it play with injuries like this.  We can all appreciate tough, intense, physical play, and hockey is by nature a very rough sport.  But anything that can be done to help kids and adults lead healthier lives should be done, and the decisions should be made by weighing all the factors (and not just revenues) equally.  It is just a game, after all.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like off-days in the NBA.

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