Mike Green failed to address the media out at Kettler Capitals Complex last Friday, breakaway day. To follow the media indignation over the snub on Twitter that afternoon was to be led to think that Richard Nixon had failed to show for his interview with David Frost.
I couldn’t summon any angst in the matter. For one thing, having been an audience to hundreds of professional athletes in media scrums myself, I rarely regard their utterances the oratory of statesmen. All too often instead cliche and jockspeak get uttered in rote fashion. And this is especially the case when harrowing defeat has just settled in.
Here I’ve ever been exceedingly sparse incorprating jockspeak in my analyses, as I was in my old media days. Actually, I dispense with it altogether. Instead, I prefer incorporating the wit and wisdom of other bloggers. Or Gabby. Or the general manager. On big-picture stories most particularly the thoughts and reflections of the manager and coach are the most important, the most illuminating, from where I observe.
But yesterday Mike Green did show up at Kettler and did address the media. And for his taking the time he needed to process last week’s devastating defeat we know a heck of a lot more about his role in the Caps’ demise this postseason as well as the overall state of the team.
“We’ve become a really good hockey team in a short period of time, and I think that has excited the media and brought expectations,” Green said yesterday. “We learned something last year [in defeat] and we learned something bigger this year.”
I’m not sure that sober assessment was at Mike Green’s disposal in the timeframe demanded by media last week, but I for one am glad he offered us this and a good deal many more thoughtful reflections a few days later. I think it was worth waiting for.
It was wise for Green to decompress for three or four days, to collect himself and deal with demons that he said yesterday had him thinking about “breaking stuff.” The alternative — speaking in the immediacy of emotion-saturating defeat and not from composure and reflection — aids media deadlines but ill informs readers and viewers.
Increasingly today, due to the prominence of sports in our culture, more and more athletes are media trained. The first rule of media training is: do no harm with your utterances. But the shortcoming of it is that jocks deliver oratory in vending machine rote and routine. And comparable nutrition. To wit, Sidney Crosby. I interviewed him once at Verizon Center a few years back. Nice kid and all, but boy was he programmed. There was no clipped sporting cliche he couldn’t feed you. He has softened up a wee bit over the years, it seems, but he’ll never be Fuzzy Zoeller.
Anyway, the Capitals do have some thoughtful players who are uncommonly generous with their time, Mike Green most certainly among them. In fact, Capitals PR staff were quick to note on Twitter last Friday that Greener fulfilled as many if not more media requests in 2009-10 than any other member of the team. I enjoyed most listening to Mike Knuble in the postgame this past season. He’s uniquely thoughtful, and uncommonly patient with the press. Often after a sizable press contingent broke huddle around him at his locker and minutes later a young and unknowing blogger would freshly inquite of him, Knuble would treat the new media interviewer as if the questions were the most important he’d addressed. I saw this regularly with the right wing.
But to get back to Green, the furor late last week out at Kettler and especially on Twitter seemed to stem from a haughty conviction that not only was Green derelict in his media duty but that by virtue of it the vast hockey consuming public in town was scandalized. A lead storyline was denied! To this line of thinking I would respond, please read last Friday’s Washington Post and the extraordinary, must-read analysis of the Caps undertaken there by Thomas Boswell. Fourteen hundred or so engrossing words of post mortem by Boz, and not a single one of them aided by the utterances of Mike Green. And Boz wrote in big-picture style on the Caps again on Saturday, again without the benefit of any insight from Green. How did Boz pull this off?
Maybe his hierarchy of organizational feedback went something like mine would — the coach, the GM, the captain, even the owner. Having Greener would have been nice, but it wasn’t necessary to construct a big-picture portrait of the Caps this offseason. So why all the bellyaching from the press?
Because last Friday there was a common storyline for them to pursue — scapegoating, to a degree, the Caps’ no. 1 defenseman. One member of the media even brazenly acknowledged it — Green, he said on Twitter, had to “face the music.” The media wanted its pound of flesh. Green wasn’t ready for the encounter. He waited, composed himself over the weekend, and on Monday gave the press instead a lot of time and a lot of introspection.
That the media in such a situation might possess an outsized sense of entitlement is not news. What was disappointing to me was the in-kind reactions of some new media peeps, who huffed and puffed in chorus on Twitter.
It is uniquely new media over the past decade or so that has in shimmering fashion highlighted the limitations of jockspeak in game coverage and analyis. Instead of shuffling off to locker rooms to accumulate jock-talk they wrote analyses based on what they saw with their eyes. During the hockey season I’m regularly seated among some amazing analytical sets of eyes for this game, and while I don’t discount the theoretical value that game participants can bring to game coverage, there is also the competing reality, brought about by media deadlines, of their being too close to the action to process it thoughtfully, reflectively, in the immediacy of the moment.
Another question: Is every pro athlete, or at least those exceptionally well remunerated, obligated to speak to the media at the end of games or playoff series? A team’s captain, we’d probably agree, yes. A player who dropped the fly ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the tying and winning runs to score? Yeah, probably. But in the context of what needed to be written late last week about the Capitals, media in D.C. had ample and quality reflection from the team architects, its owner, and its captain, in timely fashion. Less arrogance and a sense of entitlement from them in such moments might lead more athletes to choose the wiser reflective path, the one Mike Green chose. And coverage would be better for it.