Saturday, 31 May 2008

Critical For No Reason

I happened to be flipping through the Globe & Mail, a highly-read national newspaper in Canada, on Friday morning, and found myself stuck on reading a story on the back page of the Sports section. The article, entitled Mario Lemieux: exploiter extraordinaire, basically was about how Mario Lemieux only uses the press to get what he wants - a new arena, investors for the Penguins, an improved image of himself. The write, Mr. David Shoalts, seems to take great pleasure in pointing out that Lemieux uses the press to his advantage, and does it under the guise of some very polite insults.

For those of you who haven't read the story, please click here and read what Mr. Shoalts has to say regarding Mr. Lemieux before continuing.

I'm not sure how long Mr. Shoalts has been following hockey for as his biography on the Globe & Mail website is mysteriously blank. I assume he has some knowledge about Mr. Lemieux, or at least did his homework on the former Penguins' superstar. But from the tone of the article, it sounds like he was never around the game of hockey during the entire decade of the 1990s.

I'm going to break this down by accusations. I'll offer up what Mr. Shoalts wrote, and then offer a rebuttal. It will help the entire process to see where Mr. Shoalts may have gone wrong in his article.

SHOALTS: "Lemieux's last public utterance was in March of 2007, when he announced the deal for a new arena for the Penguins. Since then, all requests for interviews are politely declined through the club's public-relations staff."

I'm not sure how many owners publicly speak to the press. I have yet to find Mr. Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Red Wings, making himself publicly available for press conferences during the Stanley Cup Final. I'm almost certain that Oren Koules, one of the prospective owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning, should be having more press conferences with him buying the Lightning, but that hasn't happened either. I didn't see Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars, talking about his team on national TV when they were down 3-0 to Detroit.

No, it's always been about the coaches, general managers, and players talking to the press. Sure, Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, has used the press to express his opinions in the past, but that is Snider's way. Instead, Mr. Lemieux has allowed the people who are in charge of the hockey operations to speak about the operations of the hockey franchise. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? Does the owner of the Globe & Mail personally oversee every article Mr. Shoalts writes? No. The owner allows the people in charge of the operations of newspaper - his editors - to make decisions on the articles. The owner doesn't micromanage. Neither does Lemieux.

SHOALTS: "Even though Lemieux played a leading role in a well-orchestrated squeeze play that got a new arena out of the state, county and city governments - the Penguins threatened to move, then cozied up to Kansas City, Las Vegas and Oklahoma City as part of the campaign - the local fans do not seem to hold it against him."

You're kidding me, right? Mr. Lemieux wanted the city and state to fund a portion of the arena building costs. How do you put pressure on politicians? By appealing to the masses.

Politicians aren't stupid, either. They know how passionate the people of Pittsburgh are regarding their beloved Penguins franchise. That's why they wanted to keep the negotiations behind closed doors. When an agreement couldn't be reached, Mr. Lemieux came forward to the people.

Now I won't deny that threatening to move a franchise might be an unethical way to stir the masses. It prompted a response from the people so strong that these politicians, the same people who rely on the votes of the people for their salaries, knew they had to act. Is it fair? No. Is it democratic? Yes.

If you don't think what he did is fair, ask the people of Winnipeg and Quebec City what they think of the threat of their teams moving to new cities. I'm sure you'll hear a lot of opinions on why the threat has to be taken as real. The Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh for a long time thanks to Mr. Lemieux's actions. Ask the people of Pittsburgh if they are angry at what he did. I'm guessing 100% of them would say no. They get to keep their team, they get a new arena, and they get to watch NHL hockey all winter for a long time. So why would they hold it against him?

SHOALTS: "But communicating with the public has long been a one-way street with Lemieux. If there wasn't anything in it for him, interviews were not often granted."

Again, a lack of hockey knowledge shows here. Lemieux was never comfortable in giving interviews early in his career due to the fact that he wasn't very comfortable speaking in English. Growing up in Quebec, he had spoken only French for the majority of his life, and was reluctant to give interviews in English. There was also the fact that the press had already made him out to be a classless individual.

In 1984, the Penguins purposely tanked the season in order to draft Mario Lemieux. They will never admit to tanking, but history shows it to be quite obvious. Lemieux, in knowing Pittsburgh was going to draft him, wanted a contract negotiated before the draft. Pittsburgh declined, but drafted him anyway. Lemieux, being as rebellious as he was as a teenager, decided not to go down to the Penguins table and to not put a Penguins jersey on after being drafted. This was branded as "[a] tasteless demonstration of bad manners, unmatched by anything I've ever seen", as one writer put it. They viewed him as a spoiled brat. Why would he want to talk to anyone from the media?

Instead of viewing Lemieux as the next superstar after having won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, the Pittsburgh press continued to express their opinions regarding Lemieux in public. One reporter, commenting on Lemieux's seemingly non-existent work ethic, wrote "Mario will always be a pale copy of Wayne Gretzky, and the Penguins will remain mired in mediocrity".

Again, the fact that Mr. Lemieux gave any interviews is astounding. Writers have used him to make a name for themselves, yet Mr. Shoalts is essentially saying Mr. Lemieux is cut from the same fabric as Barry Bonds. That, in itself, is reason enough for Mr. Shoalts to be banned from being published.

Mr. Shoalts even writes, "to sell tickets for the team he had to buy out of bankruptcy, Lemieux made himself available for interviews". Hmmmm... the Penguins most marketable star makes himself available to save the team he owns in the only city he's played in during his time in the NHL for the only fans he's known. Do you really think that is self-serving more than it is community-serving, Mr. Shoalts? Are you that blind that you can't see that saving the Penguins is all Mr. Lemieux has done since arriving in Pittsburgh in 1985? Three times, he has saved the Penguins from being moved. Three times, he has turned a once-maligned franchise into a money-maker. Three times, he's done the impossible all by himself.

And you wonder why he doesn't want to give interviews?

SHOALTS: "So once that arena deal was announced, Lemieux didn't need any more attention. Not even a few minutes to talk about the feel-good story of his team."

Yes, he didn't need to save the team any longer. They had the foundations of a very exciting hockey team with Malone, Whitney, Fleury and Crosby in place, so why would he continue to appeal to the masses when he was looking at a very exciting future that included an arena deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh? He is now teaching a young Sidney Crosby how to deal with the same pressures he had because Crosby is going through the exact same thing Lemieux did. He is the on-ice savior of a franchise that had no star power, similar to 1985. He is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, similar to 1985. Mario Lemieux is passing the torch he carried for so long to a new superstar named Sidney Crosby.

Are you angry because you couldn't get an interview with him? Is that why you write with such unfounded anger and bias towards him? The man doesn't need to give interviews, especially to those who continue to sully his name after all he has done for the community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I haven't even talked about the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and the work he does there to help people with cancer. He uses his star power there to raise funds for cancer research. The Foundation has helped establish the Mario Lemieux Centers for Patient Care and Research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and gave $2 million to the Children's Home of Pittsburgh. The Mario Lemieux Foundation also developed the Austin Lemieux Neonatal Research Project, a grant that supports research at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh in their Division of Neonatology and Developmental Biology after his son, Austin, was born prematurely. Additionally, the Lemieux Foundation supports other organizations such as the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Leukemia Society, the Lupus Foundation and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

But it's all about him, right, Mr. Shoalts? If it doesn't help Mario, why would he bother?

SHOALTS: "See ya, suckers, the saying goes."

Shut the hell up, you ignorant moron. I hope you never even get to sit in the same room as Mr. Lemieux. While I realize that your editors probably published this as an op-ed piece, it's clear why it was on the last page of the Sports section. Your opinions are ignorant, and your view of Mr. Lemieux is asinine.

Mr. Shoalts, you now rank below Mr. John Buccigross in terms of your placement in the hockey world. I didn't think there could be anyone more ridiculous than Mr. Buccigross, but apparently there is. My advice to you is to stop writing.

'Tis better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt, the saying goes.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Kirsten said...

I've never been a huge Lemieux fan, but this dude totally made himself look like an idiot. Also, he should not try to use phrases that are distinctly and American teenager (and sometimes Canadian) thing to make himself look cooler. It tends to have the exact opposite effect of making him look like a complete tool.
I think he would have to write more than one idiotic piece for me to rate him lower than Bucci, because this is only the first stupid thing I've seen him do. I've been watching Bucci look like an idiot forever.

Crazything40 said...

I love what you wrote the guy is a douche Mario is an amazing person!!!