Commentary

The week in the sports spin cycle

The media vortex sucks up and spits out a hockey gold medal, LeBron, Tiger and more

Originally Published: March 5, 2010
By Matt Friedrichs | ESPN.com

Every week, sports stories get caught up in a swirl of coverage and seem to take on a life of their own.

This week, we awoke on Monday invigorated by the overtime gold-medal hockey battle between the U.S. and Canada, the perfect valediction for the Vancouver Olympics.

Other than the runners-up, who wore glum expressions during Sunday's medal ceremony, nobody seemed to mind much that the Americans finished second -- expectations for them weren't that high three weeks ago -- and many felt good for the Canadians, who faced and met the immeasurably intense pressure on their home turf by finishing atop the podium.

[+] EnlargeRichard Heathcote
Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesOne thing we know for certain about the Olympics: This performer from the closing ceremony in Vancouver did nothing to help the NHL's popularity.

Before the sun set Monday, the happy Olympic hockey story had morphed, as hockey boosters and commentators fixated on how to control the bouncing puck of public acclaim and translate that golden glow into more fans for the NHL. Amateur marketing wizards faced off with warmed-over ideas such as ending fighting and increasing the Q quotient of the game's top stars. (Could anybody outside of an NHL city identify Zach Parise without a Google image search?)

As the week closes, the early returns are not promising. Average attendance at the 12 games Tuesday night was 15,906 (Phoenix certainly wasn't skating on Olympic coattails, drawing only 10,385 against the Blues), compared to an average of 17,439 for the seven games the Tuesday night (Feb. 9) before the Olympic break and the average of 18,318 fans at the 11 games Feb. 13, the Saturday before the Olympics began. SportsNation also has doubts. In one ESPN.com poll, 39 percent of fans said they had seen more Academy Award best-picture nominees than NHL games. In another, 54 percent of fans said they are not more likely to watch the NHL after the Olympics.

The counterweight to this story: Priorities. Fans cheered some Olympians on visiting teams during introductions -- including a classy greeting for Team USA goalie and Olympic tournament MVP Ryan Miller when his Sabres played in Pittsburgh on Tuesday -- but returned to booing when those same players scored against the hometown favorites. (Welcome back to Michigan, Ryan Kesler.)

The opinions: Tim Keown | Josh Elliott | Mike Tirico

Going spiral

James
James
LeBron James plans to switch to uniform No. 6 to honor Michael Jordan. Doesn't he have any sense of history beyond MJ? What about Bill Russell and Dr. J? (And won't Andrew Bogut's feelings be hurt, too?) Think of the children who have No. 23 jerseys. Think of the parents who will have to open their wallets for new apparel. Think of Knicks fans, who neurotically noticed that the Cavs star initiated number-change paperwork with the league, something he wouldn't need to do if he switches teams in free agency this summer.

The counterweights: Michael Jordan is buying a team! Shaq had surgery on his thumb. Zydrunas Ilgauskas could return to the Cavs. Allen Iverson is done.

The opinions: Howard Bryant (published in November) | Steve Levy | Mike Tirico


McNabb
McNabb

Donovan McNabb has been traded. Who will back up Kevin Kolb? Surely Michael Vick is still too rusty and much too expensive to remain on the Eagles' roster as a backup. Wait, those were just reports that teams are interested and that Philly might ditch McNabb, the veteran who has thrown 216 touchdown passes in 11 seasons?

The counterweight: Teams have been tendering (Brandon Marshall will only cost my team a first-round pick), trading, releasing and signing free agents.

The opinions: Ron Jaworski | Colin Cowherd


Woods
Woods

Tiger Woods is back home. Quiet on the range, Tiger Woods is hitting balls (eyewitness Charles Howell III says he's hitting the ball well). That sound you hear in the background: the flipping of calendar pages as columnists and commentators guess when he'll play his next tournament. (Jack Nicklaus thinks Tiger will play at The Masters.) That other sound you hear from across the Pacific: Caddie Steve Williams says he knew nothing of the extramarital affairs.

The counterweight: There is none. Woods speculation even cut short the reaction to the raucous John Daly personnel file. Every bit of grass dropped by Woods' camp to test the wind will swirl interminably until he finally plays competitive golf.

The opinions: Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly


Griner
Griner

Brittney Griner, who used to be known for dunking in women's college basketball games, punched Texas Tech sophomore forward Jordan Barncastle during a Baylor win Wednesday. Immediate comparisons were made to Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount and New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert. A sport that would like more mainstream attention drew it in a way its fans least like.

The counterweight: Every night for the next week and an half features basketball games that will make or break NCAA tournament dreams. We're floating and popping bubbles like adults at a toddler's birthday party.

The opinions: Jemele Hill | Mechelle Voepel


Rodriguez
Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes have been contacted by federal investigators looking into Dr. Anthony Galea, who used to be the team doctor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. The case involves Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf's blood. A Galea assistant has been charged in the U.S. for trying to bring HGH into the country. Anybody remember BALCO?

The counterweight: Hey, look at spring training. Barry Zito plunked Prince Fielder in retaliation for a Brewers' walk-off home run celebration late last season.

The opinion: Tim Keown

Matt Friedrichs is a commentary editor at ESPN.com. You can reach him at matt.friedrichs@gmail.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »