Eberle and the media

I was already planning to post something like this, and then a Tweet popped up in my feed by a guy named Jason Mills. Some of you may have already seen it:

This, obviously, is in response to the comments made by Jordan Eberle regarding the Edmonton media and how it killed his confidence. If you haven't already seen the comments, they can be read here:

I think Mills is bang-on. I'd also say that professional athletes are public figures, which is the source of their incredible wealth, so scrutiny is part of the game. The higher your profile on the team (a function of salary and/or ice time), the more responsibility you are presumed to have for the team's success or failure. Players demand large sums of money to play a game, and both writers and fans alike think they have a right to hold them accountable.

A sports writer criticizing a player is nothing new, but the pile-on, particularly in social media, can be toxic. When Eberle says you can't ignore criticism, we have to recognize that criticism extends way beyond an article in a daily newspaper, like 20-30 years ago. The problem today is there is so much media, all trying to provide mass amounts of content, that a comment about a player in a daily rag doesn't end there. It's just the beginning. Sports radio hosts will talk about it all day / week long. Blog posts will erupt, sometimes repeating but often disputing what the so-called "MSM" is saying about the player. Twitter, the most toxic of all social media, will explode with average fans interacting with professional writers, widely-read bloggers and even the athletes themselves.

That is the part that makes ignoring criticism so difficult. Most players have Twitter accounts allowing anyone to directly attack the player. It's likely never the writer or blogger who will tag the player in a negative comment, but someone who read their article and feels justified will then tag the player and personally attack their play. The player then reads his notifications and gets caught up in the cesspool that is the Twitterverse and/or comment section.

I've thought for a long time, and have mentioned it in comments on here, that hockey players (in general) seem to be more thin-skinned and private than other team-sport athletes. Hockey players do not like the lime light. We've seen this over and over with free agents or players with NTC's opting for sunbelt cities or major metropolises where they can live a more private life amid a less crazed press gallery and fan base. Eberle acknowledges this when he said "We don't get as much media coverage (in New York) and don't have to deal with that sort of element and maybe can play looser and freer and it helps our game." That bothers me, and maybe it explains why a Canadian team hasn't won a Cup in almost 25 years. It bothers me because one's mental health is more important than a game.

Either way, in Edmonton, like all Canadian NHL cities, players are under a high powered microscope and most of them don't like it. A microscope they wouldn't have to deal with in a US city... at least not to the same extent. Edmonton seems to have a unique microscope. A mainstream media of mostly "old guys" who have been around since the dynasty days and feel they have some sort of superior knowledge as a result. The Oiler Internet-based fan base is one of the most active in professional sport, was early into the advanced statistics era of fandom and has some of the best analytics bloggers out there. This has led to a divisive clash with the old, entitled reporters of the mainstream media, just like many cities, but the level of hate here seems louder than elsewhere. Edmonton is not a huge city, and amid all the mud slinging it seems the players are getting caught up in it too, by reading and listening to it, and it's a distraction.

It would be wiser for players to avoid social media completely - take a hint from Sidney Crosby. Or Connor McDavid, I presume he doesn't actually operate his accounts and just uses them to push products he's paid to promote. I was at a rock show recently where the band's lead singer announced he got rid of social media accounts a week prior, and was already feeling better about life. Probably good advice for anyone who's a potential target for public scrutiny, but also for anyone who is feeling exhausted from the constant bickering, causes, movements, conspiracy theories and political agendas.

I suppose the vitriol will continue between the MSM and the non-mainstream media for the foreseeable future. The two opposing perspectives will continue to have their favorite players and their whipping boys. Whether their words change anything in the front office or behind the bench, who knows, but it seems it has an impact on at least some of the players on the ice.

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