Last night, flipping between hockey games in my current hovel in Memphis, TN, I saw this tweet come across my twitter feed.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 30, 2015
And my immediate thought was this: You better tell him who the hell you are.
Greg Wyshynski has been the editor of Puck Daddy for Yahoo! Sports for years, leaving AOL Fanhouse to start the site. If you are reading this blog, you probably know who he is. He’s orbited some blogging controversies lately, like the removal of Harrison Mooney from the blog. He’s criticized often, sometimes pretty rudely. His mentions on twitter usually feature the words “idiot.” He takes a lot of crap.
He is also a friend. Well, friend might be a strong word. We have walked in the same circles for years, but I don’t call him up to chat and visa versa. I really like Greg, I have hung out with him, seen a Washington Capitols game with him, and if I’m around, he tries to make time for me. Better than acquaintances, but not quite call you up friends. I don’t know what you call that. Stephen King says in his book On Writing that you should think of an ideal reader and write to impress them. When I was writing regularly on this site, I had two: Eric McErlain and Greg Wyshynski. If something I wrote was enjoyed by both, I had the perfect post. I have a ton of respect for both those guys. Love them to death.
My problem with Greg (or more accurately, my issue with what Greg does on his blog) has been what I considered an unnecessary meanness to the tone of Puck Daddy. I didn’t like some of the directions the humor on PD went, and some of the choices in posts were maddening (the one with the kid picking his nose at a game was one of the worst). Mind you, some of those posts are not ones Greg created, but he sets the tone of the site.
Some of it has come from Greg. I took an exception to one of his jokes in a post a while back and said something about it (it was a throwaway fat joke). I said something about it, Greg and I had a few (respectful) tweets back and forth about it, and that was it. After that, I noticed a slight shift in tone in PD. I don’t know if I had anything to do with that (I kind of doubt it) or if it’s simply a perception on my part, but I haven’t seen the kind of cruelty I used to see in their pages.
Back to the moment at hand, Greg and NHL Ref Tim Peel. Peel has been an object of scorn for a long time on Puck Daddy. He receives quite the thrashing on the site, and if something about Peel comes up, I tend to skip it. I know the gag. After a while, it’s wash, rinse, repeat. It’s the same with a few of the recurring columns over there. Nothing to see, move along.
Wysh and Peel in a bar. It sounds like the setup to a gag, but no, they were meeting to have drinks and finally get some face time with each other. Greg wrote about it:
NHL referee Tim Peel and I are at Foley’s pub in New York, which is the only logical place for a hockey summit. He’s between games, having officiated in Washington the night before and headed over to New Jersey on Friday night. He’s affable, engaging, the kind of guy who gives you a tap on the knee before hitting a punchline in that “you’re going to want to hear this one” way.
And he’s sitting across from a guy who’s ridden his ass like a jockey for the last two years.
If you are in to verbal bloodsports, this is where you lick your chops and sit on the edge of your seat. Here comes the smack down.
Anyway, here’s Peel, beer in hand, explaining that for all the derision, all the criticism, there was one thing that really hurt.
It was when he was named to officiate the Sochi Olympics hockey tournament in Dec. 2013, and our response was to publish a laundry list of his mistakes in the NHL. But it wasn’t so much that as the headline that got to him: “Tim Peel is an Olympic referee; what’s Russian for ‘blown call’?”
It was at that point, he tells me, when he realized that there was this permanent stigma attached to his name; that when his two young children are old enough, that they’ll search out their dad on the Internet and this is what they’ll find.
Yeah, that. No smacking around, no sparing, just two people talking about the one connection they seem to have, the critic and the subject.
Whenever I think about PD, I have to remember that it was started in the era of the “snarky hockey blog.” Sites were springing up left and right with a new model of success: we are snarkier than the last guy. For a while, it works. Heck, maybe it still does work. Some of those sites are still around. Some are doing really well. Some simply burned out and faded away. It’s a race to the bottom. The problem with a race to the bottom is you might just win (h/t to Seth Godin for that).
Many of them deal in what I like to call “artless snark.” Doesn’t need much explanation, does it? Maybe a better way of putting it is the mean and cruel joke. The throwaway. It isn’t really snark, it’s just an excuse for a cheap shot. And PD has peddled in those wares plenty of times.
So what next? From the post on PD:
I couldn’t quite tell if he ultimately found our coverage amusing. I got the sense this meeting was so I could put a face to the name and he could do the same. That it was an informal request for fairness in criticizing him, and maybe not to be so abjectly nasty about it.
The former, frankly, I think we’ve done for years. Tim Peel can be a bad referee. His mistakes aren’t just goofs, they’re glaring, embarrassing moments. There’s a reason fans know his name, and it’s not because we write blog posts about him. It’s because he makes questionable calls, be it because he’s serving the League’s best interests or because he just didn’t get it right. If there’s any caveat I’d offer here, it’s that he’s not the only NHL referee to make these calls, although you’d think it based on fan reception.
That said … yeah, we could be nicer. Admittedly. He’s a good guy. He’s trying. Maybe we drop the banana peels at the very least. Because ultimately the goal is to criticize his performance, not crush his soul.
Nicer is a good start. Even better would be dropping the meanness. Or at the very least, make better jokes. Evolve from the standard gag. If you can’t make a new and better joke, maybe you shouldn’t make one in the first place. Running gags are great, but has the gag worn thin? It’s worth asking.
We like to think that the hockey players, refs, executives or anyone we write about shouldn’t care about what we say, and if they do, that’s their problem. Free country, free speech, blah blah blah (if the best defense you have for what you say is free speech, upgrade what you say). But we know that isn’t the case, ala Phil Kessel for example.
I know I couldn’t take it. I’ve shut off comments on the blog, taken social media hiatuses, and even thrown friends to the lions because I tend to be too thin-skinned around that kind if derision.
PD has gone away from criticism plenty of times. While he says “ultimately the goal is to criticize his performance, not crush his soul,” Greg possesses the self-awareness to know this hasn’t entirely been the case. He has defends his work enough to know where he strikes a chord and where he doesn’t. He has also made editorial decisions to remove some of the bad choices and address them head on with the readership (case in point, the nose picking post mentioned above).
My hope is that PD moves away more from the cheap shot and mean streak the blog has been infused with for so long. I believe Greg and his group are capable of better. Not everything he does has to be a perfect journalistic output or a crusade for social justice. But I would love to see the tone of the blog even out a bit.
Good for Greg for meeting with Tim Peel. He said some things that were pretty mean about Peel, and he faced him. It can be uncomfortable to do, but I believe when you write something about someone, you take your licks. I did the same with Adrian Dater, and Greg did it here. It is a surprisingly liberating thing to do.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens the next time Peel makes a mistake. I’ll certainly read that article.