Mike Richards and Claude Giroux have something in common besides wearing a C on their sweater for the storied Philadelphia Flyers franchise. Both have had their leadership unfairly questioned by a petty and fair weather Philly sports media. The Richards controversy has been fairly well documented by other writers, most notably Geoffrey Detweiler, formely of SB nation’s Broad Street Hockey blog, and Jewels from the Crown contributor Niesy.
Chris Pronger’s first two years in Philadelphia we’re marked not only by an exciting cup run, but a media fueled captain controversy. Pronger was an established and veteran NHL leader before being traded to Flyers in 2009. When the Flyers struggled in his first season here, a flurry of speculation started about a leadership void in the Flyers locker room. Fans and media members alike called for the C stripped from Richards and given to Pronger. The 2011 draft marked Mike Richards’ exodus from Philly, and was quickly followed by tabloid-esque of drug and alcohol abuse rumors. Few media outlets kept themselves above the feeding frenzy. Now, the sharks are circling in the waters for different Flyers captain. The Flyers abysmal 2013 season has carried over into a poor start in 2014. Unfortunately juxtaposed against this poor start was a 21 game goal scoring drought for Giroux. Questions swirled around the captains on ice performance and his ability as a leader was quickly brought under scrutiny. Fans were left to question, did the Flyers ruin another fantastic young player by stitching the C on his sweater? Worse yet, there is another recently acquired NHL veteran and long time captain Vinny Lecavalier waiting in the wings.
Once again, Philly’s schizophrenic media couldn’t decide whether Giroux was an up and coming young leader or a bad captain who didn’t know how motivate his teammates. Below are two articles written by Sam Carchidi for philly.com only a month apart.
Somehow Giroux transformed from a promising young leader, praised for his passionate style to a bad captain in a few short weeks. Carchidi’s blatantly slanted perspective was shared by many beat writers, and was quickly followed by Pulitzer prize caliber journalism like this.
Another feud is brewing between Claude Giroux and the Flyers beat writers. The team’s recent winning streak may have quieted the storm, but you can bet another slump will kick start the controversy once more. If the Flyers find themselves short of a playoff berth, the scrutiny will be focused squarely on Giroux. Although the Flyers beat writers are particularly belligerent, this isn’t something unique in the world of NHL media. Throughout the league, teams mired in slumps will inevitably encounter a locker room controversy.
Why do we, the fans, fall prey to this schtick? Because its popcorn journalism. Controversy sells and it writes itself. Something about spectator sports drives this ethos of emotional cliches like wanting it more, heart, and grit. For a sports writer, speculative gossip is an easy vice to develop. It is difficult to sell papers and page views with dry analysis and honest talk. But you can fabricate a story about heart, leadership, and grit out of thin air. And time and time again sports journalists will fall back on the leadership crutch and simplify the myriad of problems that plague a poor hockey team down to just one, easily digested buzz story. It is lazy, low effort journalism and it gets eaten up by the fanbase. Beyond that, it has become an easy way to target players that don’t always play ball with reporters. Otherwise fantastic hockey players are penalized because they don’t feel like putting on a shit eating grin for the media every night.
Since 2009, a Flyer season hasn’t passed by without some sort of fabricated leadership soap opera. Do you really care about the post game interviews and the meaningless, cliched quotes that players hand out to reporters after every game? Claude Giroux’s captaincy shouldn’t be defined by his relationship with the media. Ultimately, die hard fans only care about one thing and that is winning a championship. Claude Giroux doesn’t have to give Sam Carchidi another interview for the rest of his life if it means this city can have a parade down Broad Street this summer.