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What does the Shark Say?
Media Saturation and the Art of being a fan
12/8/13 - By Ryan Hall -

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at my computer when my phone buzzed with a text message from a friend asking me what I thought of the trade. Since end of the semester papers were due, I had spent the entire day pecking away on a History essay and hadn't had a chance to check TSN lately, and as a result I had missed the Joe Thornton deal as it broke. It was a rare moment of surprise in an otherwise overwhelming flood of media coverage, and looking back on it, boy do I miss those days!

While it can be said that NHL fans today have never had it better, there comes a point when I begin to wistfully think back to that day when I actually didn't know what was going on. Even then those moments were rare, as growing up in Saskatchewan hockey is always the #1 or #2 point of conversation year round, depending on the fortunes of the Riders and the quality of harvest that fall. Still, I was somewhat sheltered as the Sharks certainly didn't get the media coverage that the Oilers, Leafs, Flames, and Canucks were given in the local and national media.

Heck, seeing someone else wearing a San Jose t-shirt or hat on campus was enough to start a conversation, as the only other access to the team that I had was listening to the online radio broadcast of Dan Rusanowsky until the wee hours of the morning. However, like a personal holiday once or twice a season the Sharks would appear on Sportsnet when they played the western Canadian teams, and so it was that on one of those hallowed days in January I finally got to watch Joe Thornton in a teal jersey for a full game.

What does any of these rambling have to do with anything you are asking though? In today's media blitz NHL I can't help but feel that sense of excitement and wonder is gone, replaced by an oversaturation that leaves so many fans jaded and bitter. For example, it has become fashionable to be the anti-fan, always picking apart a roster or management, looking for flaws in players and coaches that may or may not exist in order to appeal knowledgeable.

It's become far too ease to hate the team we're supposed to be cheering for, since the plethora of information means there is always something to nitpick about. As a result, by continually being negative you aren't really cutting yourself off from anything as they'll always be something new just around the bend, plus you get the moral superiority that comes from claiming you aren't 'blinded by love'.

But I ask you, what's wrong with being blinded by love?

What's wrong with looking past the flaws? What's wrong with choosing to see the good side of things? And what is wrong with believing, even when logic seems to scream out your folly? Now, I know everyone doesn't have the personality for that; fair enough. However, maybe if we had less access, and if being a fan of a team required any type of effort beyond flipping on a tv or logging on to NHL.com then perhaps the negativity that is starting to pervade hockey fans would lighten up a bit?

Do you suppose if it was harder to find save % numbers, time on ice per point stats, and replays of every second of action (from a handful of camera angles) then we might all pay more attention to the skill of the players we are seeing, instead of looking at things to spot the flaws that give us all an excuse to pass judgment? After all, isn't cheering for a team supposed to be entertainment; an escape from the pressure and negativity that permeates western culture?

Yes, I am obviously a sentimentalist. But in the 8 years since that December day when Joe Thornton arrived I've been privileged to watch one of the greatest talents in the game play for my favorite team; a fact that sometimes gets overlooked by playoff stats and Stanley Cups won. With his contract ending after this campaign, who knows what the future holds for Jumbo, or Patrick Marleau, or Dan Boyle? And that's where that is all heading, the real conclusion to this piece. Whenever I see the conversation starting to turn to these topics in the media, I instinctively turn off the sound or change the channel because I don't want to know what is going to happen after this season; I just want to enjoy what we have right now and not be angered or seduced by news reports.

Sports is more fun when we embrace the best part of any contest: the fact that we don't know what is going to happen. This challenges us fans to decide whether we are willing to risk believing and hoping, without ever knowing for sure that will happen until it's too late to change our minds. That's what keeps bringing back 75 year old Cubs fans to Wrigley, even though all the logic in the world tells them that it won't end well; it's what gives sports its charm because every so often the slipper does fit Cinderella.

In the end, all the speculation and information in the NHL is nothing but an attempt to quantify the unknowable, to provide some semblance of order to an unpredictable business - with the casualty being our ability to enjoy the fact that we just don't know what'll happen. And just like the chorus of Ylvis's song, all the punditry and media oversaturation is nothing but noise with no real value or meaning at all.

So, what does the Shark say?

We'll thankfully only really know in June.



Contact Ryan at ryanhall@letsgosharks.com


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