Monday, March 17, 2008

How it came to this.

Well, now that we have returned from Washington DC, and our trip to the press box, the question on everyone's lips has been: "How the hell exactly did you pull that off?"

The answer to that question is simple.

We pulled this off for one reason, and one reason only. Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals, is an extraordinary man, a forward thinking hockey promoter and a class act. Even if you have any reason to doubt my first three assertions, you simply must agree with my final one:

The man is a hell of a good sport.

For over a year, Ted Leonsis was a favorite target of this blog, both in posts and even in a sidebar category, entitled, if my memory serves, "Multinational corporations or executives who despite having access to mammoth promotional budgets or media empires of their own have nonetheless started blogs in a pathetic attempt to seem 'with it."

At the time, my view of blogs was slightly narrower than it is today. I viewed blogs as something that gave people with no access to the mainstream media a platform for their words and pictures to be seen around the world. If you were in charge of a major media outlet, you already HAD a voice- so if you came down off the top of the food chain to steal our extremely tiny slice of the pie, you were an enemy, plain and simple.

So when I heard that the owner of the Washington Capitals had a blog, I was a little testy to begin with, a feeling that only intensified when I read Ted's 101 list, a collection of "life accomplishments and goals" which I still find a little flabbergasting. I didn't know at the time that this list was created after he had survived an airline crash, and he used it in part to motivate himself to rise to the position he now occupies. Had I known this, I may have gone a little easier on him. But not knowing that, I felt that it came off a little braggy, and that was all I needed. I took every opportunity to mock, goof on, and ridicule this symbol of the high and mighty hockey owner who somehow hadn't found the time to accomplish his stated goal of owning a mountain home (#27 on the list) despite the fact that he'd had an entire canceled hockey season to look for one.

And that was a big part of it as well. I've still never really forgiven the NHL for cancelling an entire season, blowing their TV deal, and generally marketing the game without seeming to understand the things that make it great. Is it all the owners fault? Probably not. But they all had a voice in this, certainly a greater one than the fans, who were the ones who suffered, and then in droves, left. As an American Hockey Fan, I've been pissed at a lot of people who I hold responsible for the lowered national standing of the greatest game on earth. I picked on a lot of people around the league, with the same reckless abandon and salty humor I learned from watching the old Boston Garden Gallery Gods, who I used to sit in awe of at Bruins games when I was a kid. I'd sit there listening to them bang on those old yellow heating units at the top of the old Garden as they rained down profanity and blue collar wit on officials, slacking members of the Bruins and their hated opponents alike.

If going to Fenway Park was like visiting a holy cathedral to baseball, going to the old Garden for a Bruins game was like hanging out on a pirate ship. As Fred Cusick remembers in his book " Voice of the Bruins" one famous heckle happened to then coach Harry Sinden in the late 1960's, when after a particularly embarrassing loss, one fan yelled "Hey Harry! There's a bus leaving for Oklahoma in the morning! Be under it!"

Well, I don't live in Boston anymore, the atmosphere in rinks around the country is certainly a tad more civil than it was back in the rough and tumble days (at least sometimes it is) and I felt that if the league itself either wouldn't or couldn't promote and market itself while including some of the swashbuckling, irreverent fun that has always been a part of hockey for me, well, I'd better do my best to make sure someone is.

And so, based on that flash decision, Ted Leonsis became another colorful bad guy in a list of villains that included Gary Bettman, the Versus Network, hack sportswriters who pick on hockey, Ulf Samuelsson, and whoever thought it was a good idea to cut away from playoff overtime to show the pregame of a frigging horserace.

By the way, that is not a complete list.

Maybe I need a 101 list of my own.

I digress.

Either way, I'd dump on Ted whenever the chance arose, and I was doing just that last year, around the beginning of the 2007-2008 season when yes, I stepped over a line. I'm not sure if Ted Leonsis was aware of the existence of when I called him a douchebag, or an ego case, but when I called him a child molester?

He paid attention.

OK, I didn't really call him a child molester. Or at least, not in a serious way. Just in a kind of kidding around way, you know, the way I once asserted that my friend Eric, the lawyer and Ranger Fan may have been into German Fecal Porn. I mean, I said I didn't know if he was or he wasn't. Either way, yeah- I mentioned Ted's name, and very well might have said something potentially libelous.

Turns out he didn't find it funny. It was certainly not the smartest thing I've ever done, but sadly, not the dumbest either.

But if I suspected that the aforementioned post wasn't my finest hour, I was certainly reminded of that fact when, the next day, I received an email at my AmericanHockeyFan email address entitled "Was that post really necessary?"

You go ahead and guess who sent it.

I won't disclose in this story any actual quotes that Ted wrote me, as they were not written with the expectation of publication, but the gist of the very brief, polite note was to ask me if I would reconsider using his name on my blog in that manner. Now, I don't know what you do when a billionaire asks you to "reconsider something" but when it happens to me, I fucking reconsider, and fast.

I knew that if Ted Leonsis wanted to make my life unpleasant, unpleasant it would become. My image of myself as glorious crusader in the tradition of the Gallery Gods was fast disintegrating into that of the unfortunate Flyers fan who after screaming at Tie Domi and banging on the glass had the terrible misfortune of falling into the penalty box with him.

I was in a pickle.

While I was deciding what to do about this, I quickly put up two other posts, to push the offending blog post down the page, and called, well- my buddy Eric, you remember, the lawyer who I accused of maybe being into German Fecal Porn? (He's not, by the way.) After a brief discussion, Eric told me that my best course of action was to take the post down. While the constitution might be on my side, and he stressed MIGHT, (See: People versus Larry Flynt) he told me that when it came to resources, there was no way I could afford a court battle if Ted wanted one, and if he did, it would hurt me far more than it would hurt him.

I also forwarded Ted's email to Ben, my co-writer and engineer here at AHF with the caption "Now what?"

Ben replied with the following 14 word email:

"Uh, take it the fuck down? That guy could sue us off the planet."

I listened to the advice of both of my friends, thought about it carefully over the weekend, then sent Mr. Leonsis the following email:

Mr. Leonsis-

Ritch Duncan here, from American Hockey Fan.

First off, I am flattered that you took the time to respond to me. I am a comedian and a satirist, and it is rare, especially in this medium, that the target of satire takes the time to respond to one's work. Additionally, I'd like to thank you for your persistent and dogged support of the hockey blogging community. You have been the unquestioned leader among all hockey owners in terms of granting access and legitimacy to this young art form, and I commend you for it.

Secondly, this is not the first time that a prominent member of the hockey community has taken issue with my writing, and as I have done in the past, I am happy to discuss this in private, instead of splashed across the front of my blog. While in the short term, posting that you emailed me would certainly have boosted my readership, in the long term it would have compounded the problem, something I am reluctant to do without first letting you know where I am coming from. You did me the honor of writing me a polite note expressing your feelings, and I am happy to do you the same courtesy.

You have asked me two things: one if that post was really necessary, and two, if I would reconsider using your name in this manner in my blog.

As to your first question, "necessity" is hard to quantify. I'm not writing about life and death here, I'm writing comedy for hockey fans, and hockey fans happen to be an irreverent lot. One could very easily argue that much of the dialogue in the movie Slap Shot isn't necessary, nor are many of the outlandish statements of a Don Cherry or Sean Avery, but regardless, there is a precedent for it in the entertainment this community enjoys.

To answer the second question first, I have been reconsidering "using your name in this manner," all weekend long in fact, and to provide a small bit of cover while I have been, I have put up two more posts, something I normally don't do over the weekend, to at the very least push the controversial post down the page. Additionally, while you were not specific about the manner in which your name was used, I'll go ahead and assume you are taking issue with the satirical assertion I made that you might be interested in molesting children.

If that is the case, rest assured, I don't have any reason to believe that you want to have sex with children, and I think the post makes that pretty clear. The post is based on a silly cartoon, and the issue of molestation is only brought up to provide an entry point into making fun of your 101 list and your commercial with Alex Ovechkin.

I have given a great deal of thought about the question of either editing out the references to child molestation or removing the post altogether, and I'd like to be upfront about why exactly I am uncomfortable with that. From a first amendment perspective, the idea of censoring or removing an obvious joke at the expense of a public figure, especially a joke that no right-thinking person could possibly interpret as true, merely because said public figure finds it offensive sets a horrible precedent. Additionally, if I remove a post, I owe it to my readers to explain why I have removed or edited my work, and that could again, make this issue larger than it need be.

Either way, I would be happy to reassure you that I will never again refer to your name in the context of molesting children ever again on my blog.

Best of luck in the upcoming season,

Ritch Duncan

Again, without permission, I won't reprint what he wrote me back, but I will say that he wrote me a long, thoughtful response, explaining that by doing what I did, I was in fact hurting my standing in the blogging community and my site's standing. He also explained a bit about his background, the fact that he had written the list at age 24 as the result of a plane crash, was a son of an immigrant and how as a young man he used to haunt the comedy clubs in Boston. He described the kind of comedy that I was using in that post as the same kind of lazy comedy he recognized from amateurs, an accusation that certainly applied to that post. He went on to say he respected my standing on a first amendment right, and as a proponent of blogs he would let it slide, adding that I was a writer who was clearly better than that post. He thanked me for my response and signed off.

At that point, I felt like a bit of an idiot.

An idiot who was relieved that he wasn't about to get sued off the planet, sure, but an idiot just the same. Here was a guy who I had depicted as a two-dimensional ass, responding with integrity to a half bit punk who had given him no real reason to. I immediately took his name out of my sidebar, and removed all reference to him in the offending post. Not because I had to, or the law compelled me to, but because the guy had won me over. He could have smashed this blog and me to pieces, but he didn't, because he recognized something that I somehow didn't for quite a while.

Blogs are for everybody.

It doesn't matter how much money you make, whether you own a media outlet, a hockey team, or whether you even own a computer. If you have access to a library, you can get your words to the world, and he wasn't willing to crack down on that, even when he was the target of a stupid, immature assault that he had every reason to demand be taken down, and yet he didn't demand it.

He's a guy who feels like the internet is the future of hockey, and he let it slide.

I sent him the following note:

Thanks, Ted-

How about that for an irony? The second you stand up for your constitutional right to call a guy an idiot, he ends up responding in such an upfront manner that you don't much want to anymore.

You make sensible points, and I'll amend the blog.

Good luck with this Backstrom kid, I'll be watching.


Ritch Duncan

He replied with a simple thank you, and low and behold, several days later he emailed me to ask if I'd like to come watch a Bruins game from the Press Box sometime, with a full press credential. I immediately shot him off the following note:

Ted, that's a tremendously nice offer.

Heck, had I known you were such a gentleman, I'd have called you a child molester years ago...

Here's hoping both the Caps and Bruins are healthy and competing for a playoff spot when March rolls around!



And so it was written and so it was done. Scroll down for the fruits of our trip.

The only regret I have about the trip was it fell during Spring Break, so Ted was on vacation and I didn't get the chance to shake his hand and thank him to his face.

So I guess at the end of the day, I have the following advice for those of you sports bloggers who are interested in getting press credentials:

I am not, repeat, not saying that it is ever a good idea to irresponsibly and potentially libelously call a billionaire a child molester. Doing so is reckless, stupid and likely to land you in serious trouble.

I'm just saying it worked out pretty well for me.

As I have said over and over since I started this blog, the National Hockey League will grow and prosper on the strength of not just of it's game, which has no equal, but of it's characters, and I am here to tell you that Ted Leonsis is one of them.

Many thanks once again to Ted, his team, and support staff at the Verizon Center, who made our stay a pleasant one. Believe me when I say this, I sincerely hope that the Carolina Hurricanes don't win another single goddamn game this season.

Lets Go Caps.

You know, unless they meet the Bruins in the playoffs.

I have my integrity too, after all.


zorkon said...

What a wonderful tale.

Anonymous said...

Now take the Character of the Owner and look at the turn-around in the standings in the last 3 years... now, how long do you think it will be until the B's win a cup????
I bet the caps do it first-

Maybe the Jacobs family has something to learn

March to the Sea said...

very cool post. I was one of the guys you chatted with outside the game before hand (from boston). Looking forward to much more reading!