April 08, 2020

NHL players reflect upon Clinton woes

This is not meant to be funny, and it isn’t. It is a pause to reflect, and perhaps there is a lot of that going on across the country right now. There is in at least some of the sports world.

In Pittsburgh Sunday to cover an NHL game, the discussions at the morning skate and in the dressing rooms inevitably drifted to the swirl surrounding the president. As one might expect, there were plenty of less than family dinner table comments with laughs to match, but there were as many thought-out comments.

One player smiled only slightly when he said, “Maybe [Clinton] should have been a hockey player instead of president.” A woman who covers games for the press said, “I was furious last night at supper, listening to a table of men dumping on Clinton. I wanted to turn around and ask them, `Yeah, and none of you has ever gone to bed with someone you shouldn’t have?’ ”

Sports is a world of nights on the road, and bars, and groupies. It can be a sad time and a tough time, even for the best of people. Temptations are everywhere.

It’s interesting to see the players respond to all this hoopla. The response takes one back to the Magic Johnson days when he announced he had AIDS and the professional leagues brought in medical professionals to warn players of the dangers.

That warning, according to most players, was heeded for about two months. Temptation’s ugly presence didn’t go away and the lives on the road went on. As was true in the Johnson time, the world of sports, like the rest of the nation, reflects. Will the president’s problems, whatever the outcome, cause athletes to pause and even alter their road lives?

As with politicians, the private lives of most athletes is kept out of the papers. Children born out of wedlock or to other than a spouse are not sports page headlines. Like traffic tickets that get fixed for the stars, the press ignores, or at least does not investigate, such stories. Such matters are private, the same way they used to be for presidents. They probably should be.

What should send a shiver through many athletes is how the press, and supposedly the public, would eat up all the sordid stories that could be written around the sports world. As a nation, we can’t seem to get enough slime.

Are we close to the day when some paper or cable channel looking for publicity and numbers will start a feeding frenzy on scummy sports stories? If it can happen in a presidential setting, why not in sports?

We are already in a time when some sports editors place daily pressure on writers to come up with the most sensational stories possible. It becomes a vicious circle with writers trying to outdo one another daily, while trying to be fair to athletes and still keep their jobs. It’s always a question of line-drawing for the press, squeezed by editors who are squeezed by owners who are squeezed by investors looking at the bottom line.

If the worst of human nature sells will the media just head down that road? Stay tuned.

A brighter note. Ron Francis of the NHL Penguins is one of the game’s most underrated and underpaid players. He has never complained. “My dad was a steel worker outside Boston. I grew up believing you live by your contracts and come to work every day and do your best,” he said.

He has and he does. He will be a free agent next year and for his effort, he will get the payday due him. That’s the story I want to cover.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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