How A Few Words Can Cause A Stir
Most Leaf fans in Toronto know just how extensively the media can cover the hometown Maple Leafs. In fact, the coverage at times can be so extensive that there have been many instances in recent memory where sports journalists will focus their entire piece on one statement made by either the players or management.
This was very true throughout this past season, one which the team struggled mightily from January onward to become one of the worst in the National Hockey League (NHL). With such a poor showing on the ice, the media focused its efforts in disseminating statements made by the team at various points throughout the year. Whether it was by newspaper, television, or social media, a few choice words by certain people within the Maple Leafs organization managed to cause a stir in the nation's biggest city and beyond.
One of the earliest instances from this season occurred back during a local fundraiser when goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, was asked by a reporter about former South African president and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela. A noticeably nervous Bernier responded to the reporter by calling Mandela "a world class athlete" who was a "huge inspiration for all of sports." The comical blunder quickly ended up on YouTube and trended throughout social media, sparking the birth of a new meme that showed Mandela as a hockey player. The video, which has since become a viral hit, left fans of Bernier with a new impression of his intelligence of matters outside of hockey. He later apologized for his misinformed statement and his nervousness during the interview.
Before he was scoring highlight reel goals and winning the hearts of thousands who called him the Leaf's next star, Morgan Rielly managed to anger some fans because of his description of the team's struggling play. Prior to a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Rielly was asked about the team's work ethic, and he responded that he and his teammates can't "be a girl about it." Once the statement appeared online via Twitter, it angered many fans and trended on the site throughout the day it was originally published. Fans argued that the comment was very sexist and that it was very inappropriate for the former 5th overall pick from 2012 to say such a thing. As result of the responses of the statement, Rielly had no choice but to apologise on national television for his poor choice of words. While most fans have since forgiven him for it, many articles became published online within 24 hours that ripped him for the comment.
When the Leafs announced last month that they had hired Mike Babcock as the new head coach of the team, many fans (including myself) were ecstatic that they had managed to win the #Babwatch sweepstakes. While the hire itself was controversial in Buffalo, where reporters claimed that Babcock had snubbed the Sabres to join the Leafs even though there never was a done deal to begin with, it was his introductory press conference that caused a stir across the nation. When asked about his plans to bring the team back to respectability, Babcock responded by calling the Leafs "Canada's team" and that they "must put Canada's team back on the map." The comment may have made Toronto fans extremely happy, but the rest of the country, most notably Montreal, did not take it so kindly since five out of the seven Canadian teams made the playoffs. The result of this was a huge stir of memes and articles focusing on the line within a 24 hour period, and kick-started the Babcock era in a controversial way.
Most recently, Caitlyn Jenner has been making headlines around the world after her sex change from a man to a woman. While millions were rejoicing with her to make such a brave decision, Peter Holland took to Twitter to express his confusion over the sudden importance of the news. He tweeted the following to fans: " On a scale of 1 to Caitlyn Jenner, how confused is everyone by how much coverage this is getting?” Very few people were able to understand what he meant to say by it, which resulted in a large stir throughout the site for the day, with some fans going as far as saying that he was very disrespectful to the issue. The resulting firestorm forced Holland to clear up his comment later in the day with another tweet, which has since been deleted. Although he tried to right his wrongs, some fans may never get over it heading into the new season.
Hockey players in this Cup-starved town have now become the equivalent of Hollywood superstars in that everything they say or do is recorded and will stick with them for as long as they stay with the Leafs. Bernier, Rielly, Babcock, and Holland learned the hard way just how controversial their words can become thanks to the media and fans. While it is commendable that the players and management attempt to express their opinions on certain issues, sometimes in today's relentless social media world it is best that they keep their thoughts to themselves.
With the high amount of media scrutiny, it is no wonder many hockey players want to stay as far away from Toronto as possible.