ESPN.com launches a two-day series today that takes an in-depth look at fighting in the NHL. The comprehensive package of stories covers a variety of perspectives and opinions on the topic from current and former hockey players to ESPN experts and analysts, as well as fans. ESPN.com deputy editor Paul Grant spoke to Front Row about how the package came together.
What prompted ESPN.com to dive deeper into this issue?
Fighting is very much a hot-button topic in the NHL right now. Not necessarily because of an increase or decrease – the numbers are actually flat to down, depending on what metrics you use – but rather because of what I think is society’s tolerance for violence.
With the CTE research currently being undertaken as well as the lawsuits in the NFL, there is a heightened awareness about matters surrounding head injuries and violence. Thus, a natural extension of that as it applies to the NHL means we take a look at fighting because the perception – and I stress that it’s the perception – is that concussions and fighting are related. Plus, the guys who do the fighting in the NHL are usually the most interesting characters, so talking to them makes for good storytelling.
How were you able to work across newsrooms – ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and others – to cover all angles of this story?
We work closely as a matter of routine. The cooperation of The Mag, Insider, SportsNation, our enterprise group, our video team, our podcast team and our photo department was essential to the required depth and breadth of this package.
What were some takeaways from the reporting?
The learning points from the reporting were varied, as this is a polarizing topic, to be sure. There is a certain “old boys’” attitude that prevails in hockey, so many people were circling the wagons.
We had a very difficult time getting an official comment from the NHL or any team officials on this matter, for instance. And the NHLPA is protective of the fighters’ jobs, so naturally the union did not want to come out and express favor one way or the other.
I do hope this package fuels discussion within the NHL, but it would certainly be a matter of extending the already smart discussion that is ongoing. More important to me, however, is that the readers and fans take up the debate and become an important voice; after all, they will be the ultimate decision makers when it comes to what the league does. After all, it’s their game.