By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Tell me tomorrow that I can have free season tickets for any one of the local professional or college sports teams, and I’m picking the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s followed by Cubs, Bulls, Bears, Notre Dame, and White Sox, in that order. (I’ll pay you not to offer me Sky tickets.)
That order does not represent where my heart lies in each of those teams (with the exception of the Sox—they’re last because I’m cheap). The Cubs and Bears trump the rest of my Chicago sports loyalties by far. Hockey just happens to be my favorite sport to watch live is all.
Blackhawks games are just the best. The fast pace. The crashing against the boards. The crisp sounds of the sticks on the puck and skates shaving the sleek surface. That perfect chill amid the United Center seats that is so much more tolerable than what you have to deal with at Soldier Field in December that people lie about enjoying. (Yeah, I said it, liars. Nobody puts on four layers of fabric to “enjoy” something. Being cold is not fun.)
I’m going to miss all those during these next coming months because business has gotten in the way of one of the things we like to pretend is not a business. How long NHL games will be missing I don’t know. What I do know is that it seems as if not many really care that they are missing in the first place.
And what does that say about the game? I hope not what I fear—irrelevance in the American sports spectrum.
I hear little chatter from Blackhawks fans of late. That’s not to say they don’t care, but maybe more so that they are just resigned to the situation. Like a “Yeah… so this happened” sort of thing. A let’s-try-to-just-ignore-how-much-this-sucks sort of thing.
My Twitter timeline is a tad bit more depressing than usual and not just because my sadomasochistic self started following Jay Mariotti on there. Some of my favorite people to follow are hockey folks. Pound-for-pound they tend to have the best senses of humor of the sports tweeters. But I see so little spark from them now, as though they’ve become passive to the chillier winds that have begun to blow.
Hell, even the great newsletter from the fine folks at The Committed Indian has been temporarily named “The Committed Idonije,” and the guys over there are unfortunately reduced to renting a room for now in Minor League Hockey Update Hell. The most enthusiasm I saw mustered in weeks from that direction was the scandal Tuesday night over some people at Comcast Sports Net being nominated for a local Emmy for an idea that wasn’t theirs.
These are incidents few and far between, though. The culture of NHL fans as a whole has been eerily quiet since the lockout began. Very little outcry and ado like we saw when the NBA and NFL were temporarily shut down in 2011. Fans were more ticked off about league officials being locked out in football than the entire NHL ceasing to operate it seems.
I’m not trying to criticize the fans and media in this country whose hearts and souls are invested in the game (nor am I referring to Canada). Those people are who I feel truly sorry for. But what about the huge middle chunk of fandom in every sport—the one that likes but doesn’t love like oxygen, who follows but doesn’t worship? The fans that aren’t DVRing a game. The “Oh, the Hawks won last night? Hey, good for them” people.
Acceptance bordering on indifference is what I gauge from that segment. I hope that’s not the case, but I have yet to see much evidence to the contrary, and that makes my sports heart hurt. I want hockey appreciated, and I want fans to be angry about this, the shutdown of an entire freakin’ major sports league.
I don’t want the “Your cute little sport is boring” people to win the barroom arguments from this. I don’t want ESPN to be able to dangle a shred of KHL meat to a starving fanbase after refusing to acknowledge the NHL because the network doesn’t own broadcast rights, and then laughing at the grovelers like they’re dumb animals.
Most importantly, I don’t want what appears to be a lack of interest in a lack of hockey lead to something more crippling for the NHL’s future. Especially since it has enjoyed a bit of a Renaissance in recent years. And all you who take some weird sort of pride in the game in being a niche sport and consider yourselves some elite club that scoffs at outsiders, you need to understand your league can’t survive off of you.
The same fervor during the Blackhawks/Coyotes series this past spring should apply to chastising the powers that be until skates are allowed back in the arenas. Where are the fans who love to turn up their smashed noses at people that “don’t get it” or who will debate for hours on end the merits or lack thereof in fighting in the game?
Talk more hockey, damn it. Or else everyone may stop talking hockey for good.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.