A few days ago when I was flipping through the channels on TV while looking for the Olympics, I found more channels devoted to talking about Derek Jeter retiring and Carmelo Anthony’s contract status for the Knicks than the actual Olympics. To me, this is absurd. The Winter Olympics take place every four years, yet sporting channels would much rather devote their air time to reruns of NBA and NCAA basketball games which were on prime time the night before, while reruns of the Olympics are normally not shown even though they often take place while we’re asleep. There is definitely something wrong with this picture, and it is something that permeates throughout Americans sports as a whole, not just the channels devoted to covering sports.
There is no respect for the Olympics, no pride for your fellow countrymen. The almighty dollar reigns supreme, and American sports pay homage to it by ignoring the Olympics. What has been a debate in the NHL over the right of NHL players to participate in the Olympics encompasses this current situation that we find ourselves in as sporting fans in the United States.
NHL owners have recently shown disdain for the current situation where NHL players leave to play in games that have no influence over the team winning a Stanley Cup. It is understandable for owners to be upset, because while some of the NHL’s best players are leaving for the Olympics, the NHL is forced to go on hiatus for the duration of the Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. With no scheduled games during this period, the NHL loses out on revenue, and as the businessmen that they are, NHL owners do not care for financial restrictions.
But for players in the NHL they are often lost in the fray of the NHL. They are just another player, who represents an organization and a city. But why should it be considered absurd for them to want to represent their country? By playing for their country’s national team a player may have a more rewarding experience in his time competing on the world stage. Players struggle and compete with their fellow countrymen, who share the same language and culture. This is something that may not be present in NHL locker rooms, where the only lure for players may be for money, instead of to represent their home and culture.
I am not saying that the NHL is inferior to the Olympic Hockey tournament, merely that participating in the NHL offers different opportunities that some players may find more attractive, while others may not. The Stanley Cup takes place every year, whereas the Olympics take place every four years, and as a result a gold medal is elusive for players with only so many chances to compete in their playing careers.
I understand that players are under contract to the team that is employing them, and these teams are paying those players millions upon millions of dollars to be out on the ice. A player could suffer a devastating injury by participating in the Olympics that could eliminate any title aspirations that any team could have, or further exacerbate any current nagging injuries.
But for players who only have so much playing time left in them, this is a chance to promote their legacy further than that which is limited to North America by the NHL. If participating in the Olympics really is important to players, then during collective bargaining agreements and contract negotiations, participation in the Olympics should be greatly stressed.
Players are not the only ones that benefit from increased exposure across the world, but the NHL as a whole. Just as the NBA experience an influx in revenue and marketability from the Dream Team participating in the 1992 Olympic games, so could the NHL experience the same opportunities presented to themselves. By allowing and encouraging their best players to compete in the Olympics, the NHL would essentially be showcasing their product on the ice. When viewers see the talent that is across the NHL, and can only be found in the NHL, they will clamor to see these familiar players.
Increased exposure from the Olympic games gives more publicity for the sport, which will bring in more revenue over the long run, which shouldn’t be the only motivation for allowing players to participate in the Olympics, but is one that may seem to make the most business sense for owners. Although I would like to see more maneuverability for athletes in regards to participating in the Olympics, I am happy that at least hockey is still an Olympic event. NHL owners have made sacrifices on their part in order for players to participate, albeit sometimes begrudgingly, and this should be acknowledged, because unlike baseball, the NHL has stopped their season for the sake of the sport as a whole.