CHICAGO – The playoff beard. One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ greatest traditions, as players go from baby-faced athletes to burly mountain men the deeper their teams advance in the postseason.
(Or, in some cases, go from baby-faced athletes to … baby-faced athletes with terrible patchy beards.)
The players love them. The fans love them. But someone has to be the Scrooge of Scruff, and that man is Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBC Sports.
According to Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, Lazarus actually lobbied the NHL to end the tradition of playoff beards because, in his opinion, they hinder the development of new stars in the League during the playoffs.
It’s not the logo on the front. It’s not the name on the back. It’s the whiskers around their collar.
“The players won't like this, but I wish they all would stop growing beards in the postseason,” Lazarus said. “Let's get their faces out there. Let's talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes.
“I know it's a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards do) hurt recognition. They have a great opportunity with more endorsements. Or simply more recognition with fans saying, 'That guy looks like the kid next door,' which many of these guys do. I think that would be a nice thing."
Look, we respect the hell out of Lazarus. He knows sports television, he knows how to sell it. (See: Olympics.)
But the idea that sports fans are like children who see their fathers shave off facial hair and are like “where did daddy go?!” is sorta … preposterous?
NHL stars are sold on two things: Skills and story. A beard doesn’t change what they do on the ice. A beard doesn’t change who they are intrinsically, if NBC would spend the time to churn out the same level of vignettes for the Stanley Cup Final that it does, say, for the Olympics.
And the idea that some of these players are less attractive with beards?
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time the sports media has shown a tone deafness for the women (and some men) in its audience. Our own Chuck and Pants must be going apoplectic right now.
Luckily for all involved, the NHL and the NHLPA have ignored his requests.
“I’m just a TV guy,” Lazarus said. “They don’t want to listen to me.”
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