Saturday, 26 July 2014

ESPN Says So

If you had to name the sport that would rank as toughest in the world, you could come up with a few mentions of hockey, American football, boxing, Aussie rules football, rugby, MMA, and a few others. All of these sports feature some tough characters, and each requires that the participant receives some sort of punishment in overcoming his or her opponent. I was quite shocked, however, to read the following archived page found on the internet from ESPN. Yes, the same ESPN that no longer carries hockey, instead replacing that sport in its lineup with such fascinating spectator sports as poker and dog shows. Excuse the biting sarcasm.

The Worldwide Leader in Something-or-other published this page on its old Page 2 format, but it doesn't give a date of when it was published. However, ESPN asked a panel of experts to weigh in on the toughness needed to play sixty sports, and they went about the task. I already scanned the backgrounds of the professionals posing as the panel of experts, and none have hockey or a hockey-related interest listed anywhere in their information.

So why am I talking about this? The panel actually ranked hockey as the second-toughest sport in terms of demanding the most from the athletes who compete in it. Yes, ESPN actually had something good to say about hockey! In fact, only boxing demanded more from its athletes than hockey did according to this panel. Hockey also ranked ahead of long-time regulars on ESPN like baseball, football, and basketball.

Let me say that again: ESPN's illustrious panel ranked hockey as the toughest team sport ahead of football, baseball, and basketball. Yes, you're reading that correctly.

According to the panel, ice hockey ranked 11th in endurance, tied with tennis. I can actually believe that after watching some of the men's games go five sets and deep into a tie-breaker in that fifth set. Most tennis players collapse after winning that final point out of exhaustion, so I'll give the panel a pass on that one. However, to say that basketball, ranked tenth, requires more endurance than hockey players? Well, they are human so mistakes can happen.

Hockey ranked eighth overall for strength, and there aren't many arguments one can make about the sports than rank ahead of them. I'd argue football should be ranked lower, but some of those linebackers and linemen are specimens, so I'll let this one go.

Ice hockey was fifth on the power rankings, tied with rodeo's steer wrestling and sprint cyclists. While power is defined in this ranking system as "(t)he ability to produce strength in the shortest possible time", the idea of steer wrestling seems like it has little to do with power. Yes, it does take some power, but the majority of the time you see the rodeo cowboys simply use their weight to bulldog the calf into the ground before roping them. Requirement of power? You just have to use momentum to win that battle. Swing and a miss, ESPN.

Hockey ranked fourth in the speed category, tying it with middle-distance track-and-field runners. No arguments about where hockey ranks here, and the three sports above it - track sprinters, speed skaters, and sprint swimmers - all should be ahead of hockey players.

Hockey was also fourth in the agility category, placing behind soccer, basketball, and tennis. Soccer, maybe. Basketball... that's stretching it, but some players show some pretty solid moves in the paint. Tennis absolutely requires agility, and, in my opinion, should have been ranked higher than the other two sports. That being said, I have no qualms about hockey ranking fourth.

In a rather strange ranking, hockey ranked in as 26th in the flexibility category. In a sport where goaltenders make rather acrobatic and often unbelievable saves, hockey finds itself ranked lower than steer wrestling, skateboarding, fencing, basketball, and diving. Yes, diving. Where divers are supposed to remain rigid as they enter the water. Simply amazing, ESPN.

The next category was nerves, and hockey players find themselves ranked 18th. Yes, 18th! According to the definitions provided, nerve is "(t)he ability to overcome fear". We should ask goaltenders about how much nerve it takes to stare down Zdeno Chara, Al MacInnis, Al Iafrate, or Shea Weber slapshots and say "not on my watch". We should ask the defencemen how much nerve it takes to drop down in front of one of these cannons and sacrifice their bodies for a win. We should ask players about the nerve it takes going into corners with guys like Chris Pronger. We should ask players the nerve it took to stand across from Bob Probert when he was angry. According to ESPN, skateboarders, bobsledders, and divers have more nerves. I'm going to wholeheartedly disagree with those assessments because once they have done it once, it's over. Hockey players face a new set of dangers every single night.

Ice hockey was ranked third overall for durability. Boxers were first, and I saw they take one helluva beating and keep on fighting. That's a solid choice for top spot. Football was next, and I'm not sure that 18 games over 18 weeks with practice in between measures up the same way as 82 hockey games per season plus practices. I'm not saying that football players don't take their licks in games, but they have a week to recover between games. Hockey players usually get two nights at best. You do the math.

Hockey was ranked seventh in the hand-eye coordination rankings. Baseball, a few racquet sports, and team handball ranked ahead of hockey, and I'm ok with that. Auto racing somehow snuck in there, and while I'm not saying that drivers don't have good hand-eye coordination, I am suggesting that a sport must actually require athleticism. Otherwise, chess, checkers, competitive video gaming, Scrabble, and tiddlywinks are all sports by the definition. If you don't actually physically participate, I can't allow that to be called a sport. Sorry to the race fanatics out there. It's my blog and my opinion.

Ice hockey ranked first in the analytic aptitude category, tied with soccer and auto racing. This is one I won't argue with in any capacity, and I'm not going to bring down the other sports tied with hockey. Hockey is a fast game that requires players to process an immense amount of information every second they are on the ice. Players make mistakes, and goals get scored. If there is one category I would have fought hard for, the analytic aptitude category would have been it. Well done, panel.

When totaling the scores up, hockey ranked second of the sixty sports and as the top team sport in the rankings. However, I contest that the panel knows very little about sports like rugby, lacrosse, and field hockey to accurately judge those sports, and the fact that they grouped bobsledding and luge together as one shows they failed poorly when arranging these sports.

I will give credit to ESPN, though, in giving hockey its high score. It might be the only time ESPN has ever given hockey its full due.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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