The Washington sports media is like an abstract representation of the Energizer Bunny. It plows on always, mallets in hand beating on the dual drum heads of indignation and self-righteousness. And nothing charges up those derisory batteries like the conclusion of a local team’s season.
And because the Jason Collins story is an antediluvian three-weeks old, and because the coverage of Robert Griffin III’s Twitter timeline, his knee, his wedding registry, his preferred Subway sandwich, is completely saturated, the Energizer Bunny turned its sights on the recently and unceremoniously eliminated Washington Capitals.
If you were able to cut a hole through the blanket of taciturn agony that invariably seizes Capitals fans in the days after a playoff elimination, you saw, you read, and you heard as the local media did their best impression of a territorial dog, sniffing around the base of a fence until finding the stale scent of one of its kind, and then adding its fresh product to the reeking urinary cocktail.
Not everyone is guilty of this. The beat writers and radio stations that show up day in and day out to cover this team do tremendous work. Even some more regular columnists have wrangled themselves enough of a familiarity with the team that their work holds water. Praises from these parties are sung with something like honesty, and their criticisms are not so vapid or untenable.
But the ones who are guilty, well, they're astoundingly guilty.
I don’t mean to liken the local rags and radio shows to animal urine, but think about it. They are hungry beasts, clamoring around the locker rooms. The players feeding quotes to the undulating bouquet of microphones is equivalent to a tourist tearing pieces of bread from a loaf and tossing them to the ducks of the Potomac. The ducks digest their little morsels, happily rustle their feathers, and with their own excrement fertilize the very grounds upon which the players-represented-by-the-bread-tearing-tourist walk.
Most recently, one such duck got her hands on one such morsel (though it had sadly been digested and expelled many times over already), and came to some sweeping conclusions about the Capitals. That conclusion, in summary, is that Alexander Ovechkin and George McPhee are bannermen for the Referees Against Washington conspiracy theory, and that their tinfoil-hat wearing is an indictment of the organization’s overall philosophy.
The quotes, in case you managed to miss them, came from Ovechkin after Game 7, who said, "Not saying there was a phone call, but [the NHL] wanted Game 7. You know, lockout, escrow, league must make profit." Two days later, the General Manager came to his captain’s defense, saying, "I don’t think there’s a league conspiracy, but it sure didn’t feel right."
Now, according to what’s put in black and white and thrown onto driveways every morning, these two quotes are evidence that the Washington Capitals’ biggest problem is a state of mind, and not some detail of their on-ice product.
That’s…a real stretch. A sanctimonious swing and a miss. Is there something wrong with the Capitals’ organization? Anyone who has held their head in their hands after six straight eliminations could tell you as such. None of these people, I’d wager, would presume to find the root of that problem in the midst of the most despondent locker room of the season.
One doesn't need to possess an innate familiarity with a club to make a valid point about them, but if they're going to put the culture of a team in their crosshairs, perhaps a bit more diligence than simply parachuting in to get a glimpse of the players cleaning out their lockers is in order.
In the wake of yet another disappointing conclusion to the season, what we’re getting in the stead of honest assessments of the team from informed parties are sensationalist diatribes derived from the paltry nuggets of information that rise above the rest because of their headline value.
This is the nature of the beast, though. Like a man who finds a blade of dead grass in his lawn and declares that his house sits upon an acre of plague, trivialities are turned into denouements, and the readership is pulled along like Hector behind Achilles’ chariot.
There is no value in reporting the likely truth, that Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar play was the steel backbone of the Rangers comeback— a notion that was reinforced in no uncertain terms by Ovechkin one day after the very media scrum during which he made the comments about officiating that have been brought under the microscope.
Where’s the excitement in that? The melodrama? A boxer with his gloves on doesn’t simply stand in front of a punching bag and not take a swing, just as a journalist doesn’t stop sifting through the sands of Alex Ovechkin quotes until they find the pebble they can wrongly pass off as a galleon.
This is Washington. This is where the Washington Capitals take a backseat to just about everything else in the journalistic purview, just barely registering on the peripherals of the profession until their playoff exit beckons to the writer or microphone monkey who licks his or her lips at the opportunity to absolutely lambaste someone, something, anything.
The media has branded the Capitals as losers, an assertion that was eloquently rebutted by the peerless Managing Editor of this blog. What they are either ignorant of, or unwilling to acknowledge, is that they are buying into their own narratives, beginning to sustain a circular process wherein they construct a hole of disdain for the anticipated perennial failure— camouflaged with twigs and trodden leaves— and then wait for the Washington Capitals to fall into it. As the team slowly crawls out, stories are written, columns are published, vitriolic on-air rants are blasted through speakers everywhere— all events that comprise the re-construction of the camouflaged hole, primed for the next year as they await the Caps falling through again.