Sports writers rely on cliches as a matter of necessity. Writing game recaps is repetitive and tedious and must be done quickly, so you’ll find tendencies and quirks specific to your favorite (and least favorite) sports writers. That’s mostly harmless and doesn’t matter much in the long run. The fine line between commonplace writing quirks and harmful laziness comes in articles using phrases like the one below.
Overall, Nieto did not have the work ethic the Sharks’ currently want in efforts to return to the Stanley Cup Final. However, he has the skills necessary to play in the NHL and deserves to play in games.
I’m choosing not to link to the article because this isn’t a hit piece and I certainly don’t want people seeking it or the writer out for flaming purposes. That’s not what this is about, so let’s not make it about that. This writer is one of many who feels comfortable claiming they know when an athlete isn’t trying their best. Fans do it, too.
When Joel Ward was first benched by Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer I heard similar rumblings from both media members and fans alike. “He doesn’t bring it every shift,” and “he takes plays off.” I shouldn’t have to tell you this is the first I had heard of either of these sentiments. Ward made his name as one of the hardest-working players in the NHL, and I have no reason to believe that has changed.
Of course that’s all rumor and rumblings — both the good and the bad. None of it means much of anything, right? To get to the NHL takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication to playing the game of hockey. Heck, not making it to the NHL takes a massive amount of hard work. The guys who play in the American Hockey League for 10 years without ever playing an NHL game aren’t lazier than the guys who play in the NHL; at least, not by and large.
I know talking about a player’s work ethic in a positive light is easy content and an easy compliment. We can see how hard a player works when they run or lift weights or skate before the sun comes up and how that compares to hitting the snooze button six times after downing six beers the night before. I’ll even accept some NHL players work harder than other NHL players; my problem is with the arrogance so many hockey writers have.
They just know some players don’t work hard enough. They can just tell guys aren’t giving 100 percent. Do they? It’s amazes me that there are writers with the confidence to face players after writing things like that. I’ve certainly been guilty of writing tweets, and I’m sure articles too, that come off as similarly stupid and arrogant, but it’s something I’m constantly trying to get better at.
NHL writers have an arrogance problem that starts with a total lack of self awareness. It’s something I’m trying to get better at and it starts with challenging the cliches we plug into our articles on a regular basis. Instead of critiquing a player with no goals on the season for a lack of drive, perhaps think about what you’re actually saying. Is the problem the player not trying hard enough? Can you prove it? What’s more: Do you really believe it? Would you ask the player if he’s trying hard enough in front of his teammates?
Sometimes writers spend so much time asking other people questions, they miss out on a very important step: asking a few questions of themselves.