Sometimes it feels like a few of the major sports leagues are trying to make their product as bland as they possibly can.
The North American big sports leagues aren’t generally a place where one expects to find anything closely resembling a personality, but not all are equal in their disdain for character. The big wig execs themselves all seem to be lacking anything that would distinguish them from door to door vacuum salesmen, but it’s how they run their businesses that I’m interested in. Each is a little different from the other and they are proud of that fact. That said, I’m sure there is somebody in each of the League Offices who would get a little OCD about the fact that they aren’t all the same.
In their path to homogeneity, some of the major sports have all but killed harmless fun and creativity. Everyone must be the same, act the same, wear the same shoes, say the same things. The same executive in charge of ordering pens and letterhead appears to have also been put in charge of everything from Public Relations to Officiating. Must be a busy guy (or lady). At some point, the fact that these leagues exist only to entertain their fans has been lost sight of.
The NFL is the League that made Spinning The Ball a penalty. Spinning the ball? YES. Spinning the ball is a penalty. I feel like we should all need to let that sink in longer, but the NFL has been the No Fun League for so long that it isn’t a surprise at all that they would ban the twisting of the game object by its long axis. Maybe we should be more surprised that they even allow people to carry the ball without written consent from Roger Goodell. Compare that attitude and approach to that of the Canadian Football League.
Briefly imagine what Baseball celebrations would look like in the MLB if they were run by the same National Football League Automaton Commissioner. I bet the NFL execs scoff and roll their eyes derisively every time they see a handshake that takes longer than 1 second to complete and/or has more steps than the average Lego set.
But we can forgive MLB for being less strict on its players on the field, considering it’s new to this discipline business. The Selig Era has been essentially a man-child version of The Lord of the Flies. Players were left to their own devices for so long that they lost all sense of humanity and loaded their bodies up with enough chemicals that the UN drafted a warning about possible War Crimes violations (an unforeseen consequence to rampant steroid use is that brims on hats are completely unable to retain a curve; shrunken testicles, flat brims. Horrible.).
No, the MLB doesn’t really have a personality problem, they just make sure no one is allowed to stand out by preventing anyone from making the playoffs.
Basketball is probably the opposite of the NFL. The NBA seems to embrace personality. Some may argue that they do so to a detriment. Personalities dominate basketball to the extent that some players are essentially running their teams (why are we paying these GMs, again?). Posterizing the opposition, huge Dunk Competition spectacles, TV specials about Free Agency decisions, the NBA is KILLING us with personality. I’m actually going to need an hour or two with the BBC’s Coronation Street just to bring the fun down to acceptable levels.
So, where on this scale does the NHL fit?
The answer is, “Somewhere more reserved than Baseball but less monotonous than Football.”
Yes, smacked awkwardly between fun and Grandma’s house for dinner is the NHL. It’s marketed as the fastest game on Earth, but kind of thinks it’s been a little liberal with the gas pedal at the same time. Player safety is paramount — unless it’s a star player, who may have committed the infraction, but TOTALLY if that same star player is on the receiving end of the same play. Goalies are allowed to wear masks painted to have pretty much whatever they want on them (awesome), but if the game’s best forward wants to tuck his sweater into his pants (the way Wayne Gretzky did) then he can take it up with Gary Bettman because it’s all about safety.
Sure it is, Gary, sure it is. The NHL is in no way, shape, or form thinking about selling the bottom of the sweaters for advertisement space like it’s the side of an abandoned barn. The players can wear gloves that don’t cover the wrists, are free to ignore ankle protection, and visors aren’t universally mandatory, but NOT TUCKING THE SWEATER IN IS FOR THE SAFETY OF ALL THOSE CONCERNED. Whatever.
The NHL can’t afford to lose more personality than it already has. Every player interview is exactly the same as the one that came before it. Anyone with a hint of character is rooted up by the media like hogs on a truffle hunt. The NHL has been reduced to a state where it practically has to apologize for being a contact sport in which grown men may sometimes get hurt or, God forbid, fight each other. It needs to end. We deserve to be able to watch a sport and enjoy some modicum of personality.
There is no justifiable reason why leagues like the NFL or the NHL should be artificially capping the character displayed by its own players. Let them have their fun. People actually like it. If Alexander Ovechkin wants to tuck part of his sweater in, then let him! If some faceless NFL player wants to spin the frigging ball around, then let him! If more than 3% of the MLB wants to make the playoffs, then let them!
This is supposed to be fun. Just let it be fun.