Did you see Phil Kessel lash out at a reporter yesterday after Randy Carlyle was fired from the Leafs? The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk asked Kessel if he was uncoachable. It’s a pretty rough question to ask. Kessel, obviously miffed, answers, which takes some courage and anger management skills. Then Feschuk presses and asks again, which is where things go awry.
It reminded me of something I saw in the Edmonton Sun after Viktor Fasth was pulled from a game and yelled at the Oilers bench:
There was a scene in the Oilers dressing room as the media headed to the goaltenders corner.
“What was your mindset when you can off the ice?” came the first question from Mark Spector of Sportsnet.
“I gave up three goals,” said Fasth. “It’s not good enough.”
Your correspondent then asked him what he screamed at the players on the bench.
“Is that really the story, you guys are looking for?” said The Professor (apparently of journalism), Ben Scrivens, sitting beside him.
“Yes,” your agent replied.
“Stay out of our scrum. That’s the story we’re looking for. We’ll ask the questions here,” said Spector.
To me, that’s crazy. This is how you talk to people you cover? This is how it works in a locker room? It’s amazing players keep their cool at all.
Let’s go back to Kessel for a moment. He is the poster child for what is wrong with the Leafs, fair or not. He is the guy who was traded for by a previous regime to a team that made the most of that trade. And it’s the Leafs, which means that the media coverage, and therefor the beatings in the press, are constant. Warranted or not, that is the hot seat he sits in.
Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy had some background on Dave Feschuk’s history with writing about Kessel (sorry for the lengthy quote, but I think it’s needed here):
This isn’t just some random reporter asked Phil Kessel, essentially, if he killed his second coach in Toronto. This is a guy who has written in the last two years that:
– The Leafs should trade Kessel while his value is high. Also, David Clarkson had “a Bruins-worthy heaviness and has scored 30 goals in a season.”
– The Leafs might not be able to win with Kessel; or as he wrote, “Can the Leafs win anything of significance if their pudgy designated goal scorer happily sports multiple chins in a league dominated by gluten-free, goji-berry-favouring fitness nuts? Can the Leafs win if their best player, the fastest skater on the team when there’s a goal in his sights, becomes a slow-as-anything laggard when coach Randy Carlyle asks for extra effort near the not-so-merciful conclusion of a long practice?”
– Having exhausted his “the Leafs lose because Phil Kessel is fat” ammo, Feschuk used an anecdote told by assistant coach Steve Spott as a coaches’ clinic to paint Kessel as an un-coachable prima donna.
That’s a lot of pushing from one guy towards one target. Is anyone shocked that Kessel would push back? Does anyone think Kessel has no right to push back?
It gets me thinking about compassion and kindness in the reporting we see. I am trying to remember the last time we saw something that wasn’t snarky (which was the quality so many hockey blogs prided themselves on to be different and edgy), mean, entitled (including these-millionaires-aren’t-performing-to-expectations), or cranky when dealing with players that aren’t perfect or preforming well. Aside from articles surrounding tragedy, there doesn’t seem to be much. But you can easily find a link to some unnecessarily cruel shot at a player or coach. That’s easy.
Maybe I’m looking at it because I finished reading Boy on Ice recently, which was a very unflinching look at Derek Boogaard. I didn’t know what to expect from his life and career, but it certainly wasn’t that. It certainly wasn’t someone as shy and quiet as that. I can’t imagine how, after reading the book, he handled the New York media.
This isn’t hug-a-player month. I’m not saying we should be all Kumbaya and start asking why we can’t all just get along. But does it have to be this tough all the time? How hard is it for players to sit there and take it, day after day?
There is a certain meanness that sells in hockey and sports reporting. Some of the writers I respect the most don’t travel in those realms (I’m thinking specifically of Roy MacGregor). I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’ve made jokes that aren’t the kindest things to say. I also know that I don’t say them out of meanness. Maybe that’s an excuse. It’s something to look at. But as I’ve said in the past, when you say something about someone, you take your licks for it. You can’t disparage someone taking a shot back at you.
It’s refreshing to see a player push back. Especially one so maligned as Phil Kessel. He may deserve criticism, but there is a line I feel Feschuk crossed. I would love to see Kessel not take any more of his questions, or tell the Leafs PR department not to allow Feschuk into his scrums any more. I don’t know if that is a doable thing, but wouldn’t it be nice?
That is a media scrum I would love to see.