Jim Kelley Reflects
on Most Media Missing the Goal
by Jim Kelley
No reporter or columnist ever wants to be a part of the story that he or she is covering, but in my case Dominik Hasek left me no choice.
He dragged me into it, literally.
The "incident" - as it is now referred to - was over in little more than a heart beat. In case you haven't heard or read about it, the goalie for the Buffalo Sabres confronted me in the hallway outside the National Hockey League team's locker room. Words were exchanged -mine non-confrontational and suitable for print in a family
newspaper, his a prelude to an altercation, and definitely X-rated.
A "confrontation" took place and Hasek grabbed me and eventually ripped my shirt. Had security and a few brave colleagues not intervened, I'm certain that the incident would have escalated into a full scale assault. Because of their quick actions, no blows were exchanged and no one was injured.
In hindsight, Hasek's actions were almost predictable and seemed to mesh with the very actions and misdeeds I first wrote about. Hockey is a game that doesn't ban violence, it merely seeks to control it and, in my opinion, Hasek had moved beyond a state of self control. That he would respond in some manner to what I still believe was a mild form of criticism, didn't surprise me. What caught me off guard was both the timing - I really didn't see it coming - and the aftermath.
The aftermath has turned my life upside down.
People threatened me with physical harm; fans at the hockey games chanted my name and attached phrases that somehow linked me with the operative force of a vacuum cleaner.
Others said I bore a physical resemblance to a certain portion of the human anatomy that rarely sees moon shine. I received (and continue to receive) phone calls, E-mail and regular mail that state I am the worst person on earth (a phrase Hasek used just prior to the attack) and that I should burn in hell. A certain network television analyst with no ties to hockey referred to me as an "idiot" and a former football player about to become a television analyst said he had "no respect" for me as a writer or as a person.
In truth, I'm not surprised by any of that. Passions run high in the sports world and few people stop to review the principles of journalism or the traditionally accepted boundaries of commentary when their favorite sports figure is held up to scrutiny and eventually receives a three-game suspension at the high point of the season.
What I found most troublesome, however, were the attacks on my integrity and professionalism, and how few people - especially people in media - took the time to read what I wrote, or to report or comment on it accurately.
It was reported on ESPN, a cable network in the U.S., that I said Hasek was not injured and that he quit on the team. I never wrote that and, in fact, said there was no doubt in my mind that Hasek did suffer a knee injury. I did openly wonder about the severity of that injury, but that was largely because the team doctor said it was the mildest of injuries and that Hasek would at best be "day-to-day" while Hasek said he would miss the remainder of the series. I NEVER said he quit on the team.
It was reported in a Canadian newspaper that "I hung around (presumably outside the Sabres locker room) just
so Hasek would do something like that." And, my stateent, saying I was bothered by the fact that the
incident was something that could affect anyone in this line of work, made this person want to "puke." This person went on to say that his only regret was that Hasek "didn't squeeze harder" and that I was "like the wimp in the school yard who goes looking for trouble and when it finds him runs to the principal."
I, on the other hand, thought that I was only doing my job.
It was reported in numerous newspapers, the majority of which never contacted me and now admit never saw the original column, that I said Hasek quit on the team and that I had sources who confirmed it. That remark, I was told, was made by a local talk radio host who has since denied he said it.
I have also been shunned by some members of the hockey media who maintain I was a practitioner of "shoddy journalism" and accused me of character assassination.
They are entitled to their opinion, but the volume of reaction, even well-reasoned reaction, and the amount of misinformation that fueled it, leads me to believe that we do a poor job of explaining ourselves to the public at large. Most people don't understand the role of a columnist, let alone respect or even tolerate one's opinion.
The News - although it did an admirable job of standing behind me legally and professionally - also seemed more intent on just getting the matter concluded rather than actively challenging the misrepresentations or attacking the climate of distrust surrounding all newspaper people - a climate that at times seems to almost overwhelm our industry.
I don't mean that in a disparaging way. I actually am grateful to both The News and the Buffalo Newspaper Guild for their quick and strongly worded statements on my behalf. But I would conclude from what happened to me that while we are quick to defend ourselves and our right to the free and unfettered expression of our opinions and to safe working conditions, we are not quite so agile when it comes to dealing with attacks on our credibility and at setting the record straight.
If there's anything to be learned from what happened to me it would be that we can: a) expect it to happen again, and b) that we need to be more prepared to defend ourselves from a rather large segment of our own industry that doesn't seem to care about fact, accuracy or the meaning of the written word.
If we don't recognize that, we have a lot more to worry about than anything that took place outside a locker room.