Monday, March 01, 2010

Mike, you're a dope

Tony Kornheiser has a word that he uses for effect. He overemphasizes its pronunciation to drive the point home that the object of his scorn is a…


Well, today’s object of dope-itude happens to work with Kornheiser in another venue. Let’s go to the chat transcript from Michael Wilbon’s chat at the Washington Post today and this exchange…

Chicago: Wait, [Alex] Ovechkin is "out of control" because he is . . . unhappy with losing? When Tiger or Jordan or your other favorites are unhappy with losing, that's a good thing, according to you.

Michael Wilbon: did you ever see Michael Jordan push a person's camera in her face. Don't suggest, because you'll clearly do anything to excuse Ovechkin and anything he does, that other great athletes shove cameras out of people's hands. The reports from Vancouver are that the woman suffered bruises. You show me when Jordan or Tiger did that. It's also interesting to me, and you might be included in this though you might not, that white athletes are never held to the same standard of behavior as black athletes. Had Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James done this is would be painted as "those thug basketball players." Where's the intolerance over Ovechkin's behavior? Where are the columns screaming for him being discipllined? What kind of garbage is that? There is video of it, too. What, is it okay for a white player to shove a fan with a camera? Don't make up garbage and attribute it to a player like Jordan, who was never involved with shoving anybody. Ovechkin, according to other players in the NHL, deals out cheap shots. His own coach, if you remember the stories and stop making up accusations about others, said his star was being out of control. I'll take his word for it, though there will be plenty like you, I'm afraid, who'll try to brush this off as nothing, instead of wondering whether the Capitals star needs to be reigned in...

This was a follow-up to an exchange earlier in the chat in which he made the statement that “Ovechkin… is bordering on out of control,” a reference to Ovechkin’s Olympic experience, which was unpleasant, to say the least.

Wilbon is talking about being “out of control?” First, he gives Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods the same pass he accused the questioner of giving Ovechkin (to be fair, it was the questioner from Chicago who brought up Jordan and Woods). Yeah, you would be hard pressed to find evidence of Woods pushing a camera in anyone’s face, but he doesn’t have to – he has a caddy who has a reputation for taking care of that sort of dirty work. And as for Jordan, Wilbon has next to no credibility on the subject. There are the religious among us whose devotion pales in the light of Wilbon’s devotion to all things Jordan.

But that was all just a warm up. He veered off into a thinly veiled charge of racism with respect to the manner in which the behavior of a number of NBA players is characterized. “You might be included in this though you might not?” Gee, Mike, thanks for that drive-by shooting of a reader for challenging your wisdom.

Then he turns his aim on Ovechkin with the hazy “according to other players” sort of charge that conveniently makes a point without actually having to be accountable for naming names. A reader without knowledge of the sport might conclude that there are players lining up to tell their tales of Ovechkin’ dirty play. There are, in fact a number of players who hold this view, and even one rather famous hockey commentator (although his beef seems to be Ovechkin not standing up and taking his medicine on the ice for his indiscretions).

Then he careens into a reference to a statement by Ovechkin’s coach. As Wilbon put it, “his own coach, if you remember the stories and stop making up accusations about others, said his star was being out of control.” Here is what Coach Bruce Boudreau actually said about Ovechkin on December 1st in a press conference after that morning’s practice…

Q: Does he need to change the way he plays?

A: He's pretty reckless. It's hard telling a guy that scores 60 goals a year to change the way he plays. At the same time, I don't want to see him getting hurt. Maybe he has to pick his spots a little better… you're lining guys up a lot of times and going to hit them, and once they move, everything gets exposed. Human nature is to react; if you've got a bead on them, if you're a hockey player, is to continue to try to hit him. It's something that has to be addressed by us, I guess.

Boudreau seems to be talking about a player who needs to regulate his game, which is quite apart from being “out of control,” and also seems concerned more with the potential for injury. Wilbon appears to have ignored that context and chose rather to pick up the narrative that attached itself to Ovechkin in the aftermath of a knee-to-knee hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason, for which he was suspended -- "Ovechkin’s a dirty player." That sounds more like the sort of thing you would read on a Penguin message board or hear on a call-in radio show.

Ovechkin had a bad week. That’s the charitable view of it, absolutely. The churlish behavior he is charged to have exhibited toward the media seems out of character, but to the extent it was true it did him, his team, and his reputation no favors (although we are starting to wonder, is “Media Entitlement in the New Millennium” a required course for journalism students these days?). His brief exchange with a fan and a camera is disturbing, but the most damning part of the story isn’t the story as much as it is some blurry video. Still, it can’t be excused or dismissed out of hand because the player in question is a star. But is this evidence of a player who is “out of control?” Is he held to a different standard than athletes of other races?

To the former, his image took it on the chin in Vancouver this week. The negative press stemming from his non-availability to English-speaking press was relentless (and, it seems, deserved to a point). As to the latter, that was just a rather pathetic instance of playing a card that really had no place in the conversation and that was just gratuitous bashing of a person asking a question.

I’ve heard Wilbon on radio in a number of instances this year talk about how his other commitments have prevented him from following hockey. But while we find it amazing that a journalist who professes to have grown up with the sport and likes it takes such pride in announcing he has no time for it, we can understand the competition for time a working journalist has to deal with in covering a multitude of sports, writing columns, and appearing on a daily television show. For that, Wilbon deserves the benefit of the doubt.

But Mike, if that’s your attitude, and if you’re going to exhibit such a superficial knowledge of what took place (his commentary sounds almost like he read a couple of wire stories and connected the dots), then save your rant. It makes you sound poorly informed and, to borrow your phrase, “out of control.”

More than that, it makes you sound like a DOPE. You might rather ponder this description of Ovechkin…

"Ovechkin is a beast. He explodes, like a tornado. Ovechkin is scary. His shot is scary. There's an aggression about him, a barely controlled fury that Crosby, great as he is, doesn't have. Nobody else has it … He's the fastest, toughest guy with the biggest shot, the fewest teeth. Every great player wants to win. Ovechkin wants to beat you down."

Who wrote that? You did. May 6, 2009.  Look it up.