Megapundit Extra: Sports journalism, heal thyself

We would be remiss if we did not note a most auspicious addition to Canada’s roster of pundits: Theoren Fleury. (Well, “Theoren Fleury As Told to George Johnson,” anyway.) No one will be surprised to learn that Minipundit is not fan of The New NHL:

I think there’s something honourable in fighting through the interference, in being challenged. I mean, those great one-on-one battles everyone remembers, you don’t see them anymore. If you don’t have any opposition, people making it difficult for you, how tough is it? Hockey should be a tough gam

I don’t want to see the puck Dave King-ed around the boards for 60 minutes.

Slide a Wayne Gretzky disc into the DVD player and then a Nashville Predators “highlight” tape and just try and tell me you can’t see the difference. Go on. I dare you.

And as for marketing the game?

There are lot of intelligent, funny, personable guys in our sport. But all you hear is cliche, cliche, cliche. It drives me crazy. I guess the powers-that-be just want the players to sound boring. Guys, it’s entertainment. But they don’t want anybody rocking any boats. They don’t want them to say anything, tell anyone how they feel, what they think about different issues.

Halle-freakin’-lujah—Theo Fleury, we owe you a cranberry juice. Which brings us, conveniently, to Bryan Curtis‘s terrific column in the boffo new issue of Play, the New York Times‘ really excellent sports quarterly, in which he calls for wholesale reform in the field of sports journalism.

First, let’s ditch the hackneyed, almost-useless tradition of the locker-room interview. There’s plenty to write after a ballgame without interrogating the players. The whole ritual proceeds from the idea that the sports press has gotten so professionalized that it feels it has to enforce the same standards of accountability as the political press. This is nonsense. If a political candidate makes a gaffe on the campaign trail, reporters ought to wring an explanation out of him. If Jeter flubs a grounder, he doesn’t owe anyone a statement.

We direct you to Bruce Arthur‘s piece in today’s National Post, which contains one of the more extraordinarily dull quotes in NHL history:

“We’re a skating team,” [the Maple Leafs’] Jamal Mayers, another veteran, said. “We’re a skating team.”

Thanks ever so much for that. Thanks ever so much for that.

Curtis’s take on modern sports journalism—the idea that it’s become too much like regular journalism—is an interesting one. He’s right as far as tone goes, we’d say. But it’s ironic how much of it, in Canada anyway, falls so disastrously short of all the other basic tenets of good journalism—most notably, you know, not making stuff up. And even when hockey journalism is more analytical, too often it’s boring, or it’s full of factual errors, or it’s just badly written, or it’s hopelessly predictable posturing—only I will speak truth to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment! And almost always, and most critically, it’s utterly joyless.

People debate the contribution blogs have made to the political life of the nation, but there can be no debate over their contribution to its sporting life. The leading hockey blogs have left the newspapers’ sports sections in their dust. They reliably offer better analysis, fresher perspectives, and vastly sharper and funnier writing. And most importantly, they recognize that while sports are important, they are games. Shedding tears over a hockey team makes no sense. Writing about a Toronto vs. Carolina hockey game as if it was a six-car pileup on Highway 401 makes even less.

Which brings us back to Play, which we think is terrific, in case you hadn’t gathered that. We don’t care about football one little bit, but we read the whole thing about USC Trojans head coach Pete Carroll. And Andrew Meier’s look at the new hockey reality in Russia is absolutely riveting. How’s this for a non-cliché from an athlete?

“Here, it’s not like in the U.S.,” [Jaromir] Jagr says at a different point. “You got such freedom, it’s hard to believe. In the U.S. you have so many rules, everything’s regulated and structured. When you make a mistake you pay for it — a lot.” It is a theme that Jagr returns to often, the freedom of this strange place. It is not so much that his departure from New York has left a disquieting wake, but that he has discovered the unlikely and unexpected promise of Siberia. “Look at A-Rod,” he says. “No matter how well you do — they always want more. Expectations only climb higher. In Russia you don’t have to worry if you make a mistake. And that’s what I love about living here. There’s always another way to make up for it. Nothing’s too serious. Nothing is a problem, and at the same time, everything’s a problem. But somehow no matter how bad things are, you can always work it out.”

How, I ask, can he untangle the contradiction?

“I can’t. I don’t understand it myself,” Jagr says. “It’s not something you explain. You have to live it.”

We didn’t even know Jaromir Jagr was capable of thinking that deep, let alone talking it. More, please!

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