I think it would be irresponsible of me, as a blogger – not to chime in on this tough issue.
I’d like to preface this post, with a simple explanation. In no way shape or form – am I a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association. I acknowledge that I am not a pro, but at the same time – after four and a half seasons of press access with the New York Islanders, I consider myself more than a typical blogger.
For example, I’ve gone to THREE NHL Entry Drafts now, with plans to go to my fourth this year in Minnesota (on my own dime) to cover the draftees and ultimately the selections of the club, I have done guest blogs, live chats, radio, video – the whole spectrum. I take what I do seriously and maintain a level of respect for the actual members of the media, as I should.
When news broke of the New York Chapter of the PHWA (and now Long Island and NJ following suit) protesting the NHL Award voting in support of Chris Botta’s credentials being discontinued by the Islanders, initially I thought it was admirable that they would do such a thing. I think that Chris is an excellent writer and I really enjoy his insight and knowledge. Without the support of Chris four years ago, I would never be writing the words that I am writing today, nor would I have experienced all of the great things that I have – so I am and always will be grateful of that.
That said, I have supported and continue to support the New York Islanders decision to discontinue his access. I know – that doesn’t really make sense given my enjoyment of his blog and writing, but hear me out.
What has transpired over the last several years has been a growing problem. Chris Botta was the long serving PR Director for the New York Islanders, he made his way up the ranks during his long career and was even honored for his many years of service during an on-ice ceremony, received a watch and a framed jersey sporting his name. Eventually, the tides turned, and Chris Dey (then Team President) removed and/or asked Botta to resign from his long-standing post.
He landed on his feet however, starting his blog and even being “sponsored” by the Islanders in ways that weren’t exactly clear, but from what I could tell – footed the bill for his site and perhaps even allowing him to collect some form of payment in the process. After two seasons, the Islanders removed said sponsorship and Chris moved onto other avenues – writing for AOL Fanhouse, the New York Times Slap Shot blog and eventually the SNY Sports Network. He’s turned his blog into his new career, but it obviously wasn’t without some sort of resentment towards the Islanders.
Chris was all things Lighthouse Project two summers ago, attending every Town of Hempstead meeting and even getting up on stage to say his piece as a resident and supporter of the project. During my own experience with the Lighthouse Project, I got a taste of my first bit of what I expect was his resentment to the Islanders. I won’t go into details, but during an argument on differing views Chris was not very nice to me, dragging my PERSONAL LIFE into the mix to the point I had to notify Islanders Management. If he could take that route with me, I can only imagine some of the other little tricks up his sleeve.
Fast forward a bit and we come to the negative things he’s said about the team – which, according to everyone watching, wasn’t all untrue. That said, if you read between the lines – Chris has been extremely critical of the Islanders to the point you had to raise an eyebrow. I’ve written some critical things over the years myself, perhaps out of entitlement as a season ticket holder (you know a PAYING customer and all…) but what he has said has often come off as bitter and aimed DIRECTLY at those involved with decisions, rather than what should have been directed at the goings on at the time.
As writers, we have every right to be critical towards the teams and/or subjects we write about. That’s part of one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. At the same time, it is our duty to maintain a level of professionalism, fairness and respect. The issue here doesn’t just lie in the critical writings by one person, but the lead up to how things have gotten to the point they have.
The PHWA is up in arms about one of their members credentials being discontinued, but the point here is that the Islanders have not done anything wrong and the NHL even supports them in their decision. Like it or not, Chris Botta is a former employee of the Islanders who has become somewhat of liability. Their decision to discontinue his access, doesn’t really need explanation, they are within their rights (if you read the back of a credential any member of the press wears, myself included) to remove or discontinue access at will. The Islanders aren’t the first club to remove access from a member of the press either, so why the fuss?
Much like coaching changes that happen during the course of seasons, like with the New York Islanders this season when they removed Scott Gordon; how is the removal of someone from the group covering the team any different? Perhaps his attitude didn’t fit with the team, perhaps his relationship with the players or coaches had come into question, perhaps – he contributed to a wave of negativity the Islanders were trying to change? What if scouts, players AND coaches had grown tired of reading his sometimes non-stop hammering of the team and it’s decisions and asked management to step in?
Instead of the PHWA examining these potential issues, Larry Brooks, the Chairman of the NYC Chapter of ten writers voted 7-3 to protest the NHL Award voting. According to various accounts, the Rangers group have also gotten the Islanders AND the New Jersey Devils writers on board as well.
Earlier I mentioned that it was an admirable movement, but the more I think about it – it’s just a waste of effort.
What will this prove? It’s only going to hurt several players in the Tri-State market in the long run – including three players spread over the two teams these writers cover. Michael Grabner has continued to make his case for the Rookie of the Year award with 31 goals, Frans Nielsen and the Rangers Brandon Prust could each be Selke Trophy candidates. As individuals who watch those players on a daily basis, their vote is all the more important as out of market writers may not see, or appreciate what they have done this season.
What’s more, these same writers could also vote for players from teams LEAGUE WIDE – so in their attempt to protest a decision of a local team, their reach has a much further impact then they may have anticipated. Protesting rarely ever has the intended outcome, and I do not foresee a favorable outcome for the PHWA in this situation.