Who Gives A Crap About Hockey?
This entry is tough to write because, once upon a time, I loved hockey. Before I started playing basketball, I was all about two sports: baseball and hockey. The first sport is pretty much ingrained into the lives of most American boys (and girls, for that matter) growing up. If you spent your childhood growing up in the good ol’ US of A, there’s a pretty good chance you’re playing at least one year of T-ball in your life.
But I also gravitated towards hockey. Not casually, either. I remember getting a hockey stick for my birthday one year (probably the least surprising gift of my life: “Here you go! You’ll never guess what it is!”). And I’d spend hours out front of my house shooting a tennis ball into the street and chasing after it. Every Friday night, I’d stay up late and watch the MSG Network to catch highlights of that night’s games (believe it or not, Sportscenter wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is today) and pray for good news about my Philadelphia Flyers.
It’s weird to even think that I used to do that because, well, I really couldn’t give two flying hockey pucks about the sport today. I really don’t remember when I fell out of love with it, either. I guess one day I just realized that skating wasn’t my thing. Maybe I just liked my teeth too much or something.
Flash forward to today and almost no one likes hockey. It’s still popular in some circles (just try getting a drink at any bar within walking distance of Madison Square Garden on a night the N.Y. Rangers are playing) but, for the most part, hockey’s fallen by the wayside. TV ratings aren’t that high. General interest is low. And the best players in the sport? Well, they’re hardly the household names that LeBron James or Kobe Bryant are.
Yet, ESPN insists on devoting large time slots to the sport. In part, it’s because of tradition. Hockey has long been considered one of the “Big 4” sports, alongside baseball, basketball and football, so it’s been incorporated into sports-related TV programming for years now. But with so much going on the in the world of sports right now—baseball, Major League Baseball, the NBA Playoffs, the Floyd Mayweather/Shane Mosley fight this weekend—why does it feel like every time I turn on ESPN they’re showing another hockey highlight?
Listen, I’m all for letting the next generation of sports fans decide what they want to watch. Every four years, I’ll even get up and cheer for the American hockey team at the Olympics. I’ll be (somewhat) interested to see who wins the Stanley Cup this season, and I wouldn’t mind a few hockey highlights sprinkled onto Sportscenter’s Top 10 list. Why hasn’t hockey been able to keep up with the other major sports? It feels like hockey has been dead in the water (and on the ice) for years now—and no one bothered to tell ESPN.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are way more people out there who love hockey that I’m not accounting for. Maybe there’s a kid somewhere, right now, watching highlights every Friday like I used to. Or, maybe people just pretend to care about the sport because of what it used to be. Like I said earlier, this one is tough to write. But if the NHL folded, would you miss it?