Steve Dangle has been getting a lot of heat lately, and I don’t understand why. For the uninitiated, Dangle started making videos following every Toronto Maple Leafs game on a webcam in his room. Well, when I say webcam… It was clearly some kind of root vegetable. Anyway. Along with the videos, known as Leafs Fan Reactions, or LFRs, he has since done work for the OHL, and CHL, the World Juniors, the AHL and, now, the NHL. He has worked at theleafsnation.com, LeafsTV, CBC and, now, Rogers SportsNet. Nike even sponsored him to go to the 2010 Winter Olympics. And this is just what I know from following the guy; there very well might be more. The man has paid his dues.
Young guy, intrepid blogger, works his way up from nothing, makes The Show… Who doesn’t love a story like that?
Well, a lot of people, evidently. As a major presence in SportsNet’s online platform, Dangle’s work has been promoted in their social media releases, especially recently. However, some people have been voicing their concerns A) with his content showing up in their News Feed and B) with the fact that he is an employee at SportsNet in the first place. There is a petition – which, to be fair, has been mercilessly trolled by fans of Dangle – to get his videos removed from SportsNet’s site altogether. Some are even calling for him to be fired.
Now, if you go into StarBucks, order a drink you’ve never had before and then realise you don’t like it, do you demand that the barista be fired? No, the next time you come in, you get something else. If you don’t like Dangle’s stuff, don’t watch/read/listen to it. No one’s putting a gun to your head. He’s got over 31,000 subscribers on YouTube, over 33,000 followers on Twitter and a podcast sponsored by Panago Pizza so, obviously, some people like him. If you are not one of them, that’s fine. How does he, in any way, affect your life? This is his job and he’s making his own way in the world, so why are you demanding his head?
Hockey is, let’s be honest, the 4th most popular of the 4 major professional sports in North America. We hockey fans are a passionate bunch but we occupy but a small niche of the sports market. We aren’t like the NFL, for example, where each and every team has hundreds of thousands, if not millions of devoted, diehard fans. Some NHL teams do, undoubtedly. But many do not. Unfortunately, as untapped as many hockey markets are, the NHL is, and has always been, a stodgy institution that is stubbornly resistant to change. Two current examples: the NHL’s reluctance to discipline its players and protect its stars, and the disregard with which the league has treated both the short and the long-term effects of concussions. Gary Bettman, despite obvious demand, refused to develop a league-sponsored replacement for CapGeek. Too many goalies getting good at this playing-the-puck witchcraft? Better put in the Trapezoid. Going back a few years, helmets were not universally mandatory until the 1997-98 season, despite Bill Masterton’s passing in 1968. The NHL as a league and as a community is not a brilliant institution.
A good chunk of the media coverage of hockey is equally conservative and reactionary. Think of the terms “good stick”, “student of the game” and “play the game the right way”, and let me know what image pops into your head. The hockey establishment, writers and fans alike, need to understand that there are many ways to enjoy and think about hockey, and that they do not have a monopoly on it. For instance, analytics have been around – and reliably predicting outcomes – for years but it was really only this past season that much of the mainstream hockey media began paying attention to them. An energetic new – usually younger, but not exclusively so – generation of people covering the game is emerging. Dangle is part of this movement, and seems to be doing rather well with it. Pushback is essential in order to generate healthy debate. But there is no need to character-assassinate someone.
Steve presents topics in a fresh, exciting way that is humorous to many of us “established” hockey fans, but also inclusionary to those who might be new to the game. After all, hockey can be an intimidating sport to take up as a fan. Why not make it easy and fun, instead of grumbling about the uninitiated? And for those of us who grew up with the game, he has an ability to pass almost instantaneous judgement on an issue – and be right about it most times. When looking at an issue, it is exceedingly difficult not to experience an immediate gut reaction towards one extreme or the other. Most people, professional journalists and otherwise, need time to think about and process the situation in order to draw some semblance of a reasonable conclusion. Dangle can, seemingly, do that off the top of his head. That is a rare gift.
We have a curious instinct as human beings to instantly harangue any attempts at change, especially when it conflicts with our own personal views. However, we did not develop the civilisation we live in and enjoy today by being stagnant. So, to the hockey community: calm down, open the window and let some fresh air in. There's room enough for everyone.