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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hockey News Can Do It Right

I am a huge hockey fan. I follow the New York Rangers carefully and my son tells me I know way too much about the players. While I don't have the same passion since the Rangers were eliminated, I still enjoy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. I also enjoy reading the Bible--of hockey--the Hockey News. One of my favorite parts of the Hockey News is "Beyond the Spotlight", a feature article about past and present hockey players. When I opened up the most recent issue I groaned when I saw the headline "Admirable Adjustment" by Anthony Murphy. I thought, oh no, here comes another super crip overcoming impossible odds story that makes my blood boil. Aside from the bad headline, the article is first rate. It is about Matt Cook, a former Jr. A player for the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta League who was diagnosed with cancer and had a leg amputated. This is where the story begins not ends.

The Hockey News story points out that it would be "easy to let sympathy for a person's plight draw attention away from the achievements of a pure athlete". The focus here is on the athlete, Matt Cook, and what he has accomplished since meeting Paul Rosen, veteran goaltender for the Canadian men's national sledge hockey team. Sledge hockey is not that different than stand up hockey in theory and practice. It is a fast passed hard hitting game. Cook's transition to sledge hockey was difficult but once he mastered the required skills he excelled. In fact he is the only rookie on Canada's roster for the 2009 Sledge Hockey World Championship which began last week.

Please note what was not discussed above: disability. Instead, a major media outlet got a story right. Sure we are talking about hockey, not one of the three big time sports in the USA. But for Canadians, hockey is big business and fans follow the game with passion. In the story about Cook one learns about his development as a player and the basic rules of sledge hockey. The focus is squarely on what he has and hopes to achieve. The article ends with the following comment by Cook: "Its about being able to get up after having a two minute shift , throwing a hit and your lying on your back, then making it to the bench". To me, this sounds like your archetypical hard ass and tough as nails hockey player who loves the game. This is the sort of coverage athletes in adaptive sports expect and deserve. It is also gives me hope that some smart television executive at a network like Universal Sports will discover adaptive sports and start broadcasting them. The winter X Games have done a great job in this regard and the mono ski race is now a hot ticket and popular event. I see no reason why other adaptive sports cannot have a broad appeal--the athletes are all playing for the love of the game. This is what athletics is supposed to be about--the game.

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