There's criticism of the intensity of sports media coverage, and then there's the accusation that local reporters fabricate information for the purpose of manufacturing controversies during slow news cycles.
The 24-year-old captain of a ninth-place team has had a chilly relationship with the Philly media this season, following an underwhelming 2008-09 campaign that saw more tabloid photos of the Flyers' party life than playoff wins. Their reputation as revelers was reinforced by GM Paul Holmgren in an offseason interview.
This reputation led to speculation that forward Joffrey Lupul(notes) was shipped out to Anaheim in the Chris Pronger(notes) trade in order to break up the party, and that Pronger and Ian Laperriere(notes) were added to the Flyers locker room as a much needed veteran presence on and off the ice.
That speculation earlier this season angered Richards; in an interview with The Hockey News circulating this week, he accused the media of "making things up" in reporting on the Flyers during their struggles.
It's an interview that led to a fierce war of words between the captain and the scribes after Philly's game against the Washington Capitals on Sunday; a moment that, once again, shows the young captain pious cries of unfair media scrutiny are off-base and need to cease.
Here's what Richards said in The Hockey News, to Adam Proteau for a cover story. Please also enjoy Pronger's words about "jagoffs" who report on random acts of hugging on the street ... as opposed to the ones who demand trades after Stanley Cup runs without any candid justification to the fans who supported him:
The Philly media decided to call Richards out for these quotes after the Flyers' 5-3 loss to the Capitals, although one hopes they would have done so win or lose.
Daily Times beat writer Anthony J. SanFilippo has a complete blow-by-blow transcript of the exchange. At times it reads like some Philly sports version of "Who's On First?" although with more booze and less baseball. Here's part of the fun, with specific media indentified:
CSNPHILLY.COM: The follow up to that is, do you think there's a problem between us and you?
RICHARDS: Um.. Probably not. I haven't even read the (Hockey News) article. I don't know if I was misquoted or what was said. So, I can't elaborate on that.
DELCO TIMES: I guess the question that might clear this up is, is this something that was brought up to you by the (Hockey News) writer, or was this something you brought back up again yourself?
RICHARDS: No. I'm not sure in this instance because it was a month-and-a-half ago. But, in the texting it was like, ‘What's it like playing in Philadelphia?' I said, ‘The media's tough sometimes when we're losing. It's good when we're winning.' I can't say exactly what I said but...
INQUIRER: (interrupting) You did say in the next sentence that ‘they make stuff up.'
RICHARDS: Oh, O.K.
COURIER POST OF NJ: Do you think you're treated unfairly by us this season?
RICHARDS: No... Thanks guys. It was a pleasure, as usual.
SanFilippo went on to write that there was an epilogue with Richards, before Peter Laviolette broke up the scrum. He also finds sympathy for Richards in that the writers may have come on too strong and that Richards, as a young and single professional athlete, is feeling enormous pressure for performance on and off the ice.
SanFillippo offered more editorial thoughts than Philly writers from CSN, the Inquirer (original, since deleted headline: "Captain Whine Rips Media") and the Courier Post, which more or less just covered the contentious exchange. Sam Carchidi of the Philly.com Broad Street Bull blog, however, opened with this salvo:
Richards is a terrific, gritty player who has been compared to a young Bobby Clarke. Personally, I would rather write about his on-ice exploits than his whining. But when he went national and erroneously charged the local media with being dishonest, well, it can't be ignored.
Nor should it.
As we've said before: Richards is totally on point with his criticism of the Lupul angle. It's not as if he was shipped to California for a bag of pucks; it was for Chris Pronger. It's difficult to make the "breaking up the band" argument when it's that level of trade, and we're talking about a Lupul-level of player.
But as far as the party-boy accusations, this isn't about some "jagoff" taking a photo of Richards at a frat mixer out of context. As nearly every Philly reporter in the scrum Sunday reiterated, it's a meme fueled by Richards's own general manager, who claimed the young Flyers' off-ice routine was a concern ... before he meekly backpedaled in The Hockey News piece: "I don't think it's ever been an issue on the team and our guys just laugh about it."
Funny, Richards didn't seem all that jovial with the local press.
The "C" on his chest does not stand for "contentious." It doesn't stand for "controversy." It's a symbol that means Richards should be above this fray, not grabbing the shovel when the story's been buried, and raising it from the dead. The Flyers are 6-3-1 in their last 10, and about to begin a definitive six-game home stand. Yet this is the major story that greets them upon returning home. He should have just said the quotes speak for themselves and "next question'd" the media instead of offering a showdown.
Richards needs to understand where these stories came from, why they were perpetuated and why they're yet again an issue for this team. Then he needs to heed his own advice and win some hockey games so he "won't have to hear it again."
Well, until he decides to insult his beat writers in another national interview.