ESPN, Stay Away From Hockey

As a hockey fan, it’s often hard to watch ESPN’s SportsCenter. After the NHL’s lockout of the 2004-2005 season, ESPN decided not to pick up the television rights to air national hockey league games. This meant an end to NHL 2Night with epic commentary during games from Gary Thorne. Not to mention the loss of frequent game and league analysis from the owner of one of hockey’s greatest mullets, Barry Melrose.

The Versus Chanel, originally OSN (Outdoor Sports Network), has held the rights to broadcast nationally televised NHL games ever since, causing some frustration for serious hockey fans. Yes, you can follow your home team on local channels such as the Rangers on MSG or the Bruins on NESN, but certainly, major coverage of the sport has been lost since ESPN decided the NHL was not a solid enough investment. If you don’t pay to get the Versus Chanel and the NHL Network on your TV, you miss out on action around the league.

As of now, ESPN provides thin coverage of the NHL. You may be lucky to catch a recap of the Sharks Red Wings game; however, you will only be able to see a few short clips of goals being scored. There is zero analysis, just short highlight reels. Often the only time you may be guaranteed to see hockey on the channel of the world’s leader in sports, is during top ten plays.

Today, with some serious rule changes, the NHL seems to be in a healthy place. The league is filled with young, talented players whose speed and skill benefit from stricter penalty enforcement, more penalties, more power plays and more goals. Not to mention the introduction of the shootout. After all, who doesn’t want the Mighty Ducks epic shootout win over team Iceland brought to life? (I would hope that, hockey fan or not, you’ve seen at least one of the films in the Mighty Ducks franchise.) While many hockey reporters claim that offensive production isn’t quite as “appealing” to non-hockey fans as it should be (going as far as to say that the nets should be made larger), the NHL has done well since the lockout, making necessary adjustments without too heavily compromising the integrity of the game.

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Right now, the league is very competitive; each game is exciting and fun to watch. Yes, not everyone can follow a hockey game on TV, whether it be for lack of knowledge of the sport, or simply the fast movement of the puck and the not-so-fast swiveling of the camera. Still, the NHL has had much to offer for both true hockey fans and those new to the game.

The league is looking up yet the NHL remains relatively out of the national spotlight. In comparison, consider a sport that Americans value signficantly more, NCAA football.

This past week, Joe Paterno, head football coach at Penn State University, was forced to retire. In addition the athletic director and president of the school have been removed from their positions. It has been revealed that Paterno, the athletic director and the president of the school were all aware that defesnive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys in the football team showers. However, none of these men brought this information to the proper authorities, leaving young kids to continue to be horrifically victimized.

The terrible injustice of this issue makes one seriously question the moral and ethical guidelines of some of the most influential people in our society. The corruption of college football continues to get worse with this incident, as it has been revealed exceedingly in the past few years that coaches and players alike have been knowingly violating NCAA rules. In the instance of Paterno, however, there is a more serious issue of human injustice at hand; yet, are his, the athletic director’s and the president’s, inaction not motivated by the financial success of Penn State football? Penn State has created a cult-like system, like  so many other big name universities, by which their football program has generated massive amounts of money for the school. Institutions like the Penn State football program are, like our financial sector has been recently coined, too big to fail. Once in a system that large, an individual is not meant to question faults, but rather sweep them under the rug for the efficiency of the larger entity.

Whether it be the corruption of college football, the episode that was and still is Tiger Woods, or problems of gun possession in the NBA and NFL (Plaxico Burress, Gilbert Arenas), it seems the more money involved in sport, the more likely the professional level is to fall short of moral and ethical values.

This is not to say that the NHL in its own right is perfectly straight. There have certainly been issues amongst the league’s most respected names (for example Wayne Gretzky’s wife and others affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes placing illegal sports bets), yet, given the massive amount of money that goes through the NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA basketball/football, it is hard not to imagine the NHL and its players especially, as somehow untouched by this kind of corruption.

Hockey remains on the margins of the sports industry, and maybe that’s a good thing. There is less spotlight for NHL players and coaches alike than that of other major sports. Their salaries certainly allow them to live more comfortably than most, but their time away from the rink is not filled with the same fame and fortune of other idealized sports figures. For NHL players, the temptation isn’t nearly as strong.

ESPN may not choose to invest in the NHL anytime soon, and hockey fans should be thankful. There is a heart and soul to the game that has yet to be affected by the greed that has tainted all other major sports in the US. The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Monday Night Football, nor should it want anything of the sort.•

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