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
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 1, Source 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.
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