Friday, July 17, 2009

DanyWatch Day 39: Mr. Heatley, tear down those walls

The other shoe to drop in the Dany drama will be whatever pair of Manolos that Jason Spezza's very blond bride has chosen to go with her wedding dress.

Dany Heatley actually spoke to a reporter for about 30 seconds this week. The rub is Spezza is getting married in Ottawa on July 25, so either Heatley will snub his linemate and a mid-summer piss-up with the boys to avoid the hometown press corps, or he'll have to address questions lest the happy couple be overshadowed. In that regard, maybe he comes off better for not giving an interview to the Kelowna Daily Courier, a fine broadsheet and saving himself for Ottawa.
"Then came the questions: Dany, I'm so and so from The Daily Courier, was hoping I could shoot the breeze on some hockey stuff with you?

" 'Not right now, man. Sorry, I'm just about to take off, actually,' said Heatley, pleasant but clearly surprised to see a reporter standing there.
"OK, fair enough, could we set something up for later on, maybe later in the week or next week?

" 'You know what, I'll take your card and I'll give you a call or have someone give you a call. We'll be in touch.'

"And so ended a rather anticlimactic encounter."
Heatley doesn't deserve sympathy, just understanding. It barely needs reiteration that his agents told him to keep it zipped and that strategy backfired. When one side is not talking, the other side gets more time and space for its perspective. It is pre-Politics 101.

If anything, the way the Heatley story has arced illustrates what Bill James once called the "cultural rift between sportswriters and players which became manifest in the 1970s."

People in general, present company included, are behind the curve when it comes to James' point, made in 1984, that "the walls between the public and the participants of sports are growing higher and higher and thicker and darker, and the media is developing a sense of desperation about the whole thing. It is easier to ape Steve Carlton's example in how to deal with a reporter than it is to mimic his dedication to excellence, so every day more players become unapproachable; the simple expectation of being able to communicate with the inside is decaying."

Damien Cox noted in the foreword to his Martin Brodeur book that hockey writers seldom get more than a couple minutes to talk to a player one-on-one before some team functionary appears to whisk him away. Dealing with the media, especially print reporters who have to find something to write about beyond the games, since TV usurped the job of covering the game some time around 1960, is a potential negative. Never mind that, as the Toronto Maple Leafs figured out, it's better to get torn a new one on the front of the sports section than have a positive story back on page S8 (or farther down on the website).

You see the dilemma. Traditional media trumpets its access and access is carefully curtailed, plus the changes happening to print media mean it's harder to get authorization to send a reporter to camp outside Heatley's home. You know why you seldom see any notable NFL news break on a Saturday during the season? Because the coaches and players are in virtual lockdown. Those bitter jokes columnists of a certain vintage crack about how the day is coming when athletes will only communicate with the public via Twitter and their personal website have a ring of ironic truth.

Meantime, Heatley skates into all of that with his trade demand, puts walls up, and gets crucified. Honestly, reading that story in the Kelowna paper, he doesn't come off as the evil guy all too many people in Ottawa have portrayed him as for the past five weeks.

As for leaving people "hanging" as Chris Stevenson noted, the season doesn't start for two months. Even exceptionally thick hockey players must know there are no guarantees in life.

Heatley seen, but not heard (Larry Fisher, Kelowna Daily Courier)

No comments: