Lowetide has a piece up on the curious way in which the media seem to have the knives out for Yakupov this morning, which prompted Dave Staples to chime in with a sort of defence of the media. I kind of agree with Lowetide’s point that the media seems to have a curious willingness to pick at Yakupov that they didn’t with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. It was this passage from Staples’ piece that really caught my eye though:
When Cole, Jones and Matheson criticized Yakupov in Russia, they actually had a fair point.
Hockey is a hard, hard game to play at the highest levels. It takes tremendous commitment, discipline, courage, talent. It also takes singular focus. A player does not need distractions, but he creates one when he fails to do something so simple as talk to reporters when they have a few questions.
Nothing much was required of Yakupov here. Just give a few canned answers to a few canned questions. No big deal. Simple. Just do it, then move on to the important stuff.
Did Cam Cole, Terry Jones and Jim Matheson, all of whom were reporting from the comfort of their couch, have a fair point? Well, I’ve talked to someone who was at the WJC and I’m told that the setup there was a bit different from the North American setup. To start with, there was no dressing room access. Players were brought into a mixed zone to speak to the media. The Russian PR people seemed to be the ones deciding who would come out to talk. It’s not like Yakupov was hiding in the trainer’s room while a sad pack of media gathered around his stall. It’s probably also worth mentioning that the Russian PR guys care less about placating the rapacious Canadian media pack than, say, Hockey Canada or the Edmonton Oilers do.
Second, this idea that the captain is supposed to double as the PR guy is apparently not universal. I’m told that Russian journalists didn’t really understand why this was a thing in Canada, because it’s not the custom there that the captain (or all players) are available after every game. Anecdotally, (which I suppose this all is), I watch a lot of European soccer and I notice that there’s far less availability on a day-to-day (or even game-to-game) basis to the players. They do tend to occasionally do great interviews. I actually prefer what I’ve perceived as being the European media culture – less access but better access when it happens. Yakupov, by the way, has done some great interviews with Andrey Osadchenko at Oilersnation.
So Cole, Jones and Matheson were complaining about something that they weren’t seeing first hand and may well not have entirely understood. Fair point? I don’t really think so. It’s probably more interesting to wonder why they’re so quick to jump on him though. Lowetide talks about the possibility of a bias against him, which I think is probably fair. Let’s look at some stuff that’s appeared on the Journal’s website:
A few more rough edges come to mind. When asked about the so-called Russian factor, the fear, that is, that a Russian-born player will bolt for the KHL as soon as the going in the NHL gets tough, Yakupov was ready. He is a Muslim, he said, not a Russian. His word means something, by implication, unlike a Russian’s word would.
Well, considering the guy’s been in Canada for quite some time now, one would have expected someone could have (or should have) told him that race labels do not define people, and his reply was perfectly offensive.
I’m not entirely sure that that’s what Yakupov was getting at there. I took it as kind of an awkward way of saying that he doesn’t have the same ties to Russia as guys of Russian ethnicity, which doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, given the issue. Also, HIS response was offensive? I’m not sure how it’s any more offensive than the question, which I don’t think was offensive either, but if we’re reading race into things, it goes both ways.
Then there was this:
That latter notion fits in rather neatly with the traditional Russian approach: a contract is valid only when it suits us. If you have a problem with this, you have a problem. We don’t. Never had. Here’s a quarter and call somebody who cares.
In the ideal world, the Sting will not release Yakupov from his contract, and he would either return to Canada, or sit at home in Nizhnekamsk, biting his nails. The quarter of a million of the Tatar locals would be happy to see him walking up and down the paths along the Kama River. If he’s lucky, nobody will rob him at gunpoint.
It’d be kind of fun if the Oilers got Seth Jones in the draft, just to see what the Journal would write about him. If you’re Jim Matheson, and you’re upset that Yakupov isn’t giving you the sort of access that Wayne Gretzky did, despite being younger than your son, maybe you should talk to the web side of your operation and ask them to ease up on calling the guy a racist from a crime ridden culture who shouldn’t be trusted. You never know, it might help your relationship with him.
Russians being held to a different standard than North Americans isn’t new in hockey. If you watched the Stanley Cup finals, you got to see Jim Hughson ripping on Ilya Kovalchuk, who was playing with a bad back. If you went back and re-wound the plays (I did) you’d find that many times, Hughson’s complaints were completely unfair. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that Kovalchuk was a Russian played into it – when Steve Yzerman could hardly move on a bad knee, the Canadian media talked about what a hero he was, not the fact that he kind of looked like a liability on the ice because he couldn’t move.
In other words, I kind of agree that there’s a fair bit of bias against Russian players in the Canadian media. They don’t get cut the same slack that Canadian players do, whether they’re playing injured or not in the mood to talk to the media one day. This whole episode is just another example of it. It’s been nice to see some of the online blowback from it – Matheson wrote a sort of wounded blog post about the whole thing while Jones clarified that he expects to deal with the Yakupov who is nice to him in the future. Jones still sort of seems to be missing the point – who cares if Yakupov talks to the media – but maybe, just maybe, those guys will think twice in the future before kicking a guy for something that they didn’t see halfway around the world.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org