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From the Press Box: Taking (cheap) shots

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Welcome to "From the Press Box", where Raw Charge's reluctant-yet-enthusiastic correspondent in the Amalie Arena press box, Clark Brooks, takes you behind the scenes of the exciting world of watching hockey from the rafters for the purpose of writing articles about it.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins
Is anybody tired of pictures of Jake Dotchin writhing in pain yet? (Your feedback is noted, Jake Dotchin)
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The best thing about having a team-issued credential to cover the Lightning is that I'm a Lightning fan, and I like to believe that being a credentialed member of the media allows me to be an ambassador on behalf of fellow fans who will never get to experience the game of hockey that way. Through this weekly column, I'll be sharing peeks behind the magical media curtain with you. Today, we're going to talk about a writer’s obligation to “go high”.

Following the latest antics of real-life Garbage Pail Kid Brad Marchand when he speared Jake Dotchin in the Lightning’s 4-0 loss to the Bruins in Boston Tuesday night, there’s a lot of talk about cheap shots. Few things inspire deeply personal and passionate reactions (at least among males) like the words “groin injury”, especially when it’s not an accident. Marchand is what he is, plays the way he plays, and isn’t likely to change or go away. Not as long as he’s arguably his team’s best player, in spite of his stupid shenanigans, anyway.

Marchand isn’t the only dirty player in the league and players aren’t the only ones who do dirty things. The media has demonstrated on numerous occasions over the years that they’re capable of taking cheap shots too. Not with a stick but with a keyboard. The opening sentence to this very article qualifies as one. Unlikely to cause anyone to double over in pain, but still.

Probably the most truly heinous example of this in recent memory would be Niko Hines and the article he wrote for The Daily Beast in 2016 in which he outed several Olympic athletes from different countries by trolling them on Grindr, a gay dating app, and then publishing their profiles from that app without consent.

That’s an extreme example and goes well beyond attacking off-the-ice (or field) things like a player’s physical appearance or family circumstances, although those things do happen and are equally inappropriate. It’s an element that’s probably more prominent in sports talk radio than anywhere else, actually. And that’s probably because it’s a medium seeking attention and struggling to remain relevant in a landscape that is becoming more and more dominated by online content sources like blogs and podcasts. Regardless, using a public communication platform as a weapon against someone is indefensible, especially if the targets lack a means to respond in kind.

Beyond the world of sports and sports media, it’s a pretty significant societal problem right now, with people hiding behind the cover and concealment of on-line anonymity to spew vitriol toward others in an effort to cause harm.

It’s a charge frequently leveled at bloggers, who are often branded as uneducated, ill-informed, ethically deficient loose cannons. Granted, most of us aren’t “classically trained” journalists and a certain degree of irresponsible pot-stirring (I believe the youngsters call it “flaming”) happens but in my opinion, it’s generally a bad rap. This might sound like an unnecessary and gratuitous plug, but it’s an especially inaccurate accusation in the case of those of us who write for sites like Raw Charge, which is part of the established and respected SB Nation network. For starters, our names are on the content we produce so we’re accountable for it. Whatever temptation there might be to commit malfeasance dissipates considerably when there are consequences for your actions.

We also have editors. If we are feeling flame-y and write something unfairly mean-spirited and/or inaccurate, there’s at least one person in position to check us before it goes out into the world. [It me. - Acha]

There’s also our basic obligation as writers to entertain our readers. Sports is not a perfect universe and bad things that happen need to be reported factually and objectively. There’s no question about that. But the primary reason athletes put on colorful uniforms and people buy tickets to watch them perform in arenas with music and lights and lightning bolts is because it’s a form of entertainment. My belief is that it’s our responsibility to readers to present it as such, first and foremost.

Third, and most importantly, I just don’t think most of us are wired that way. Sure, everybody has bad days and there are those individuals who operate under a “watch the world burn” mentality all the time, but I don’t believe they represent the majority of us and how we execute our duties. I think most of us love sports and are thrilled to be involved with something for which we have a passion and value that as something more than a platform to hurt people for the sake of seeing what happens afterward. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think I am. At least, I hope not.