Spelunking in the Echo Chamber with Michael Wilbon

Who's got two thumbs and an incoming rant directed at him?  THIS GUY

Who's got two thumbs and an incoming rant directed at him? THIS GUY

Sportswriter and TV personality Michael Wilbon shared this opinion about Alex Ovechkin:

[He] is bordering on out of control. He’d do well to get himself under enough control to concentrate soley on leading his team to victory because that’s all Crosby seems fixed on.

This is hokum.  Duh.  But let’s pretend for a moment that Wilbon is right (he’s not), and figure out how he reached this decision.

Alexander Ovechkin’s recent crimes

  1. Flattening Jaromir Jagr in a vicious, but legal hit.
  2. Palming a camera shooting him and his friends.
  3. Hitting Tim Gleason knee-on-knee in November.
  4. Hogging three shoot-out attempts against the Slovaks.
  5. Avoiding the media, particularly the Americans in Vancouver.
    (Feel free to provide more in the comments below.)

If you’re able to discern a pattern here, you are wiser than I. Rather, I’d submit that the following: Michael Wilbon and other sports writers demonize Ovechkin and lionize Crosby because it is in their explicit interest to do so.

Just as American politics has replaced genuine analysis with ignorant bombast, sports journalism too has grown u-g-l-y (and Michael Wilbon, sadly, has no alibi). While there is obvious value in the sage reporting of Tarik El-Bashir, Corey Masisak, or our own Daniel Moroz, the unwashed masses seems to prefer obnoxious bluster instead. Granted– guys like Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are undeniably gifted, intelligent writers; but they trade in stories, not sports.

The perceived narrative of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is far more valuable than any objective truth. Wilbon saying that Crosby is “is so far ahead of Ovechkin right now Ovie would need a telescope to see him” is ridiculous and demonstrably false, so of course he’s being rewarded for it. Wilbon has delivered a great pullquote, got people talking, provided fodder for pieces like this one, and built up his own cult of personality. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Let’s sober up for a moment. Ice hockey is a team sport, and Sidney’s teams have surpassed Alex’s by every metric.  As an individual player, however,  AO has more trophies, the same number of goals, more hits, and more assists (at least this season) [Source 1Source 2]. Like most people I have a personal preference between these two players, and I’m unafraid to launch hyperbole against the other in the service of entertainment. But if I were to say that Sidney Crosby is a “21st century Wayne Gretzky” (quoth Al Michaels), I’m writing crazy-people fiction– and everyone knows it.

And so we’ve spent the last two weeks in an echo chamber. The TV personalities exploit Crosby vs. Ovechkin to make the Olympic tournament more approachable for casual fans. Guys like Mike Milbury and Don Cherry try to inflate their Q-ratings by boasting laughably unsound opinions (even if they’re completely entertaining). Less informed, less scrupulous, and even more fame-hungry pundits then pick up those storylines and blow them up to a grotesque, epic scale. And now it’s up to dwindling number of rational minds still left among us (Hollaback, Dan Steinberg!) to reconcile.

Here’s an unremarkable but valid opinion: Ovechkin has had a bad two weeks. He played unspectacularly, and his team lost. Sidney Crosby also played unspectacularly, but he scored a crucial goal, and his team won.  It’s true , but that’s far less entertaining than if I had said…

Alex Ovechkin teeters on the precipice of existential disaster.  Lest he undergo a radical and experimental personality therapy in Palm Springs, Ovie’s urine may not develop the healing qualities that have rendered Sidney Crosby’s as good as cash in some rural Canadian towns.

We’ve all been wrapped up in the emotions of the tournament, but it doesn’t mean we have to talk out our asses.  Michael’s a funny guy, but he’s not serving his audience by being a blowhard.  Until he and the others come around, let’s vote with our mouse-clicks.

  • Victoria (WashCapsRock)

    Everyone (Wilbon) needs to cut Ovechkin some slack. The poor guy had a less than mediocre experience in Vancouver. Sure maybe he should have made himself more available to the press but we don’t know what the Russian Federation imposed as far as rules on the Russian athletes. No, he shouldn’t have shoved the person with the camera but geez wouldn’t you go over the edge having people in your face all the time?

    Ovechkin is an amazing athlete. So to Wilbon, I say leave the hockey coverage to Tarik. To Ovi and the rest of the Caps I say rock on!

  • Chris

    6. Not Sidney Crosby

  • @Chris, ZING!

    @Victoria, I want Wilbon & co. talking hockey all the time. I just want them to do it in a less boneheaded way.

  • FedFed

    7. OT goal vs Pens.

  • Darren

    Careful what you say: Anything you say pro-Alex Ovechkin (a white guy) will only be interpreted as anti-African American by Michael “Race Card” Wilbon.

  • Doug

    Great summary. So OV is “out of control” per Wilbon. For pushing a camera out of his face after a tough loss in the Olympics? Sounds like someone who is focused “solely on leading his team to victory” and is pretty darn PO’d about losing. If Wilbon bothered to watch a Caps game now and then, which he freely admits he does not, then he’d see a guy who it focused on winning and leading his team…as evidenced by his record since wearing the C on his chest.

    By hey, as Wilbon says, “some players” think OV is dirty. Then again, “some players” think OV plays hard. “Some players” think Sidney Crosby is a whiner and “some players” think Malking is better than Crosby. In fact, “some players” think alot of things that arent true. Shoddy straw man journalism more worthy of lowest comon denominator bloggers, of whom Wilbon has no regard for.

    In the end, I dont think this article was written to raise Wilbon’s Q-rating. I dont think he cares about that given he’s got the top rated show on ESPN. No, I think this article was a poke in the eye at DC sports fans, Caps fans, who dare to think of OV as the best player in the league and can do no wrong. Wilbon always rants about Skins fans who can’t and won’t see anthing beyond the burgundy and gold and who think the hometown team is the only team in town.

    Unfortunately, we all dont have jobs which give us the time, money and access to every team and sport in the country. Wilbon does and he can use that to enlighten fans about issues that are beyond what we all can see here in DC. That’s great when it come to the NBA or NFL, leagues Wilbon is plugged into and follows. He can’t, however, apply the same analysis to a sport he barely follows based upon watching a couple of olympic hockey games. If he does, he’s no better than the myopic DC sports fans he so often rails against.

  • Ned

    Watching the video that sparked Wilbon’s rant I noticed two things:

    1. The cameraperson positioned themselves in such a way as to create a confrontation. If I was fortunate enough to be in a position to get video of one of my favorite players I might try calling out for their attention and asking them if they have a minute before simply stepping in front of them. To be able to palm a camera, that camera has to be placed within arm’s reach. I don’t see why the cameraperson couldn’t have just allowed their “idol” a little personal bubble.

    2. The camera wasn’t destroyed or broken or demolished – they were able to shoot video of them walking away without interruption that was of the same quality as before the incident. Also, the cameraperson clearly never fell over. Whatever “bruises and contusions” they may have suffered simply could not be that bad. I participate in full-contact sitck fighting so I know from bruises and what happened there just isn’t that rough and tumble. Going back to the first point, walking in front of a group of athletes in full stride with a camera in their face is not exactly a strategy for escaping unscathed.

    We would all love it if famous people cared about us the way we care about them. We’d love for Jennifer Aniston to ask us who she should be dating or to have either half of Brangelina invite us to sit with them over coffee to give them relationship advice. We’d like the LeBrons, Tigers, Ovies and Favres of the world to be overjoyed every time a fan barges in front of them asking for a photo, video, autograph or interview. We believe that because we pay to see them do what they do and they make a LOT of money doing it that somehow they owe us for our fandom. Sure these folks are fortunate that they happen to have found success at a job that pays well. But that doesn’t mean that I have a right to invade their space whenever I want to. My taxes pay the garbage man’s salary, that doesn’t give me the right to hop on the truck next to him with a camera while he’s working or to bug him for interviews if I see him at the grocery store.

    Our choice of entertainment, idols, etc. are just that, Choices. I don’t have to watch the Caps, I don’t have to go to the movies. Just because that’s what I choose to do with my time and money doesn’t mean the people who entertain me owe me anything beyond the service they’ve already provided – that game, that film, that TV episode. Maybe better than some form of counseling would be a talk from Ted about good customer service.

    Semi-unrelated, the one thing I’d really like to see Ovie improve on is his shootout skill. It just seems so weird to me that a guy who can score such ridiculous goals can’t finish a one-on-one consistently. Maybe if they put two defenders on him it would help. It’s these kinds of pressure situations where so far Crosby has really outshone him and that’s what makes people think of Crosby as a better leader and better player.