As sports fans, we recognize that there is something bigger than all of us. Something bigger than the Commissioner’s Trophy, bigger than a Super Bowl ring, and bigger than the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, it’s bigger than the Olympic games themselves, because the opportunity to play for and represent your country is larger than life to many athletes and their devotees.
The NHL has recently announced its decision that it will not be granting this well-earned privilege to its players. And here’s where the problems with this decision lie:
The NHL bears the greatest hockey talents in the world and players deserve to showcase that. There is a reason players from countries all over the globe venture to the North American continent in hopes of playing on hockey’s greatest stage. There is a reason young talents seek the kind of training and development they need in order to make it to one of the 30 (soon to be 31) teams in this league. It features the best of the best, and prides itself on such. Olympians are amongst the most respected of athletes, and to deny the greatest players of the sport of hockey that kind of honor is an abomination—and more or less a slap in the face—despite the billions of dollars they rake into this industry. The NHL owes it to the athletes who they brand themselves with. If you’re going to exult and flaunt the skill-sets of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin within the likes of your league, don’t they deserve to play for the beloved country you sought them from? Or is their individual pride not valuable to you?
There is no doubt that hockey reaches many parts of the world (simply thumb through your home team’s roster) but it is not nearly reaching the scale of expansion it could be. Being the smallest of the four primary sports in the US, the NHL has claimed on many occasions that it is actively seeking methods to grow its audience.
The appetite to expand? Big step forward.
Declining an Olympic appearance? Two even bigger steps backward.
In its choice to turn its back on a large market across the globe, the league has made itself blatantly clear that deserved progression of the game is not a priority. It’s hard to imagine a more advantageous opportunity than an Olympic appearance on the other side of the world.
The Respect for the Game
There is no doubt in my mind that there are players and fans alike that feel misrepresented by the NHL’s blanket decision to slight the Olympics. A sport as intricate and proficient as hockey, that has grown and developed over more than a hundred years, merits proper appreciation and visibility.
This is an erasure of culture. It is an indifference to the acknowledgment of diversity. It is degradation to the individuals who put their heart and soul into the sport. To disregard the dignity of the game itself by revoking its earned representation on an international platform is an insult to those who embody it every night on the ice and those who watch on admirably. The players deserve better. The fans deserve better.
Hockey deserves better.