Why the NHL Needs Richard Sherman
In case you missed it, immediately following the conclusion of the NFC Conference Championship game yesterday, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gave the post-game interview to end all post-game interviews:
Needless to say, this has set the sports world talking, all last night and into this morning.
- Was he out of line?
- Was he right to call out Michael Crabtree?
- Was his diatribe "classless"?
- How will Peyton Manning and the Denver offense go after Sherman and the rest of the Seattle defense in the Super Bowl?
Of course, it was silly of me to include "in case you missed it" in the opening sentence above, because EVERYBODY is talking about Richard Sherman this morning, in a way that pretty much nobody ever talks about anything stated by a hockey player.
Like it, love it, or loathe it, what we saw out of Sherman at the end of that game was an athlete sharing a dose of raw emotion and energy, almost unfiltered, exulting in his victory and calling out his vanquished opponent.
That's exactly what the NHL needs these days.
What Holds the NHL Back?
ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons picked on hockey over the weekend, tweeting that incidents like Saturday night's Vancouver/Calgary line brawl "reiterated why the NHL is a minor sport". Setting aside the fact that with NHL revenues this season expected to pass $3.5 billion, compared to baseball's $7.5 billion, Gammons comes off as a former-ESPN flunkie discounting a sport that doesn't air on his old network (note: correction explained in comments below), he does remind us that hockey remains a significant step behind baseball, football and basketball in the American sporting conscience, which is usually quantified in national TV ratings.
That brawl has nothing to do with it, however - in fact, it probably attracted a few eyeballs due to its sensational nature.
There are numerous reasons why hockey lags behind the other major sports, not the least of which is the fact that the sport is played by so few people relative to the others, but there's also a gigantic "personality gap" between the way in which NHL players present themselves in the media and how those from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball do. The prevailing culture of quiet, respectful small-town Canadian team players dictates that not making waves is Priority #1. Whatever the question is, simply credit your teammates, recognize the hard-working nature of your opponent, and move on to the next cliche.
Take for example Matt Hendricks, as hockey a hockey guy as ever hockeyed, by all accounts. The Edmonton Oilers took him in trade from the Nashville Predators last week because he exemplifies traditional hockey leadership, by working hard on the ice, being "great in the locker room", and always being ready with a good quote from the press. Here he is on the morning of January 15th, speaking with Predlines.com about how things were going in his first season with the Predators after being signed as a free agent last summer:
Just hours later, however, after being traded to the Oilers, he told a different tale to the Edmonton media:
"It wasn't a real great fit from Day One," Hendricks told Edmonton radio station AM 630. "Looking back at it, there's a lot of players in the Nashville organization that kind of bring the same traits that I bring."
For dedicated hockey fans, this "don't make waves" style is part of what we love about these guys - they don't stir up trouble or draw attention to themselves, deflecting credit to their teammates and coaches at every opportunity. But's it's also what holds the league back from breaking new ground. Simply put, the public persona which most of these guys put out there is boring.
What the NHL needs in today's competitive sports & entertainment landscape is bigger and bolder personalities. They don't have to come in exactly the form Sherman showed yesterday, but somebody needs to rock the boat, and not get tossed overboard by the ultra-conservative guardians of hockey culture for doing so.
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