Out of the mouths of hockey players

There's a great scene in the movie Bull Durham where Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is teaching Ebby Calvin 'Nuke' LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) how to survive interviews with sports reporters. His advice is basically to restrict himself to banalities. Keep it simple. Crank out the old clichés.

Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.

While it's a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the generally poor quality of sports interviews, there is a grain of truth in Davis's advice. As a long-time sports fan, I listen to a lot of these interviews. And in the majority of cases, the players stick to their clichés. It's boring, but it allows them to steer clear of controversy. And controversy is the last thing you want to create in a team environment.

Today, however, a player from the Toronto Maple Leafs went way off script and his comments are at the top of the local sports headlines. Jason Blake, who has been struggling for two seasons to find his offensive groove, is being benched for tonight's game against Calgary as a healthy scratch (for the second time this season). The first time he was scratched, his comments to the media were fairly tame. Today, he couldn't contain his anger and let it show to the reporters:

“I don’t know what’s going on… we’ll try to figure it out sometime today,” Blake said. “It’s just extremely frustrating. To be honest, I was very, very upset in Boston, but I didn’t really know what to say because I was caught off guard. It was the first time in nine years that I was a healthy scratch. I’m even more caught off guard this time, and I don’t know what’s going on, to tell you the truth. I’ll spend the afternoon trying to figure it out.”

I dislike everything about this quote. From saying 'I don't know what's going on' twice, to describing how 'very, very upset' he was and then saying he is 'more caught off guard this time'. This is pretty selfish stuff. This doesn't sound like a player who respects his coach, his teammates or the team's fans. The story of the day should be the team's upcoming game in Calgary. Instead, one player has selfishly hijacked the media spotlight to help soothe his own bruised ego. From an organizational and communications perspective, this is a terrible example of a lone wolf hurting the organization that pays his hefty salary. Even from a hockey standpoint, how can he think that these comments are going to get him back in the starting lineup?

And while it might be a bit of a stretch, perhaps the self-serving tone of his comments can help shed some light on the reason behind his lacklustre play of late. Wayne Gretzky was not only the NHL's most prolific player in history, he also gave thousands of great media interviews, always putting his team, coaches and fans before himself. Maybe Jason Blake can spend some of his time in the press box tonight Googling some of Wayne's old media interviews and picking up a few pointers on how an athlete should represent himself to the media.

Labels: , ,