Hockey’s relationship with Sports Illustrated, the still-venerable icon of American sports journalism, has always been complicated. We’re still trying to figure out how the Chicago Blackhawks “saved hockey” in 2013. Here we thought it was a salary cap, new rules and outdoor games. Although we guess without the Blackhawks there are no outdoor games, so…
SI did put the Pittsburgh Penguins on the national cover when they won the Stanley Cup championship last season, and they did put Gordie Howe on a regional cover when he passed away in June. Which makes this week’s uncontainable blunder all the more dumbfounding:
In the Year in Sports 2016, hockey didn’t exist, according to this video that SI has been watching all night long from its Sportsperson of the Year celebration:
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 13, 2016
Don’t worry, Penguins fans, SI’s Year in Sports covers:
Chicago Cubs? Check.
Denver Broncos? Check.
Villanova men’s basketball? Check.
LeBron and the Cavaliers? Check.
Usain Bolt? Check.
The USA swimmers? Check?
The USA women’s gymnasts? Check.
Leicester City? (!!!) Check.
Oh, and if you’re worried that arguably the greatest hockey player of all-time (per the actual Great One) dying after a miraculous life in which he defined his sport didn’t warrant a mention, SI did have Muhammad Ali passing away and room for both Kobe Bryant and David Ortiz’s retirements.
There’s two ways to look at it when this kind of crap goes down.
The first is that Sports Illustrated, like ESPN, does a really marvelous job undercutting its truly great hockey coverage (mostly online, courtesy of the great Alex Prewitt) with poor editorial decisions around its brand. Like when a P.K. Subban cover story was deemed proper for Canada but not for the United States, with the U.S. cover instead dedicated to a running back who is out of the League and played a total of 16 games in the NFL, but happened to be a Patriot at the time.
It’s like leaving hockey out of a year-end video: Oversight through pandering, rather than fulfilling journalistic duty.
But the other way to look at it is that the NHL, for all of its billion-dollar rights deals and brand expansion and marketing stunts, still isn’t seen as vital or memorable to the decision-makers and gate-keepers in professional sports media. That goes for a Sports Illustrated video, a SportsCenter highlights rundown, the real estate in many newspapers sports sections across the U.S. and this very website, which found room for Hulk Hogan and Caitlyn Jenner in its goofy sports bracket but not an American hockey player.
So while Sports Illustrated should be rightfully pilloried for leaving news that was good enough for its cover out of its year-end video retrospective, it’s also appropriate for hockey fans to ask why, in fact, that did happen.