The NHL's Superstar Problem

Hampton,

In the great halftime case of NHL Drake v. NFL Madonna, I'm not sure the outcome matters—after all, Drake will undoubtedly get his shot at the Super Bowl someday, provided he manages to remain semi-relevant into his 50s. Indeed, what worries me about Madonna's upcoming occupation of a gig once dominated by Up With People! isn't the pop matriarch's ballyhooed supposed plan to "bring the gay" to the big game—football, like pro wrestling, already is rife with homoerotic content, and so what?—but rather the NFL's looming shortage of adult contemporary aging megastar performers. U2? Been there. Prince? Done that. Petty and McCartney, the Boss and the Stones? Quadruple-ditto.

In other words, I have seen the future, and it is KISS. Gack.

But as usual, I digress. We're talking hockey. Thanks to the ongoing concussion crisis, the sport seems to be in the early stages of a culture war—old school violence against new school brain science—that could potentially remake the game as we know it. You can see this in the ultra-cautious approach the Pittsburgh Penguins are taking with Crosby's return—Eric Lindros, he isn't—and also in the three-game suspension the NHL doled out to Ovechkin for apparent headhunting.

Speaking of Ovechkin's suspension: former player and current NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan appeared on an official league video explaining exactly what the Washington Capitals star did wrong and why he was punished. In fact, Shanahan has been releasing similar videos all season—a revolutionary, largely unheralded practice that could usher in a new era of sports transparency. When it comes to officiating, fines and suspensions, leagues traditionally have adopted a policy of never apologize, never explain. The result? Player grumbling. Fan dissatisfaction. Widespread conspiracy theories.

The NHL's new approach is different. Open. Educational. It offers clarity and treats everyone—fans, the media, even suspended players—with respect, replacing the athletic Star Chambers of yore with something more in tune with our collaborative, information-sharing culture at large. It's forward-thinking—surprisingly so, for a league that still condones fighting—and a practice I hope the rests of the sports word adopts. Imagine if the NBA had provided a detailed video explanation of the calls in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Or if the NFL broke down the infamous Tom Brady "tuck rule" fumble that wasn't. Allowing the public a well-lit look behind the curtain would build trust, enhance legitimacy and foster confidence in the games we watch (and gamble on).

Besides, I'd love to see Roger Goodell explain precisely why the league went with Madonna—and not, say, Bryan Adams. Is Duran Duran still touring?

–Patrick

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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