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On the NHL’s vaccine plans and the impact of reporting

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Sometimes what your “sources” say needs to be properly vetted.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Disclaimer: I am not a health expert, but I know a thing or two about reporting news

NHL news is few and far between as we await the announcement of the NHL’s plan for the 2020-2021 season, but if you look outside the NHL spectrum, America is on the brink of widely distributing the long-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 — a sliver of hope after what has been a grim 10-month period. There’s still a lot of uncertainty with the vaccine, the biggest task will be getting it widely distributed as quick as possible. The first doses will be administered to the people who need it most: health care workers, educators, the elderly, and so on... There should be no debate there.

The NHL has always been heavily-reliant on its group of veteran media personalities to deliver tidbits of information, whether it be about trades, free agent signings, or developments with stuff like the plan to return-to-play. Most of these reports are very low leverage... Meaning, they really don’t matter in the real world. Things are different now. Why? Because fans want hockey back, and so does the NHL, but the pandemic isn’t going to make that an easy process. So now, we have NHL media personalities reporting on stuff that has real-world impact. A recent example comes from one of the so-called insiders John Shannon, who reported that the NHL was planning to buy vaccinations for all faculty involved in the upcoming season:

I don’t think it needs much explanation as to why this is such poor reporting, but I’ll explain.

What Shannon did here was suggest that the NHL would somehow get its hands on vaccinations before people who actually provide a critical service to our society: whether it be health care workers, essential workers, educators, or just overall vulnerable people. It suggests that through the power of the almighty dollar, the NHL could simply write a check and jump ahead of everyone else.

It took Shannon an hour and a half to provide (some) context to his initial report, which (in my mind) contradicted what he said in the first place:

Is this “clarification” or just a contradiction? If the NHL plans to buy vaccines and not jump the line while intending to start the season January 13th, well, I would say that is impossible.

What Shannon should have done in this situation was ask questions and seek context: How about answering whether anybody would expect the NHL to be able to make a private purchase of vaccines in preparation for the season restart without jumping the line.. If you don’t get a good answer, then you simply report that you indeed asked these questions. Plain and simple, he jumped the gun. That’s fine with sports stuff, but not this.

What it really boils down to, is that NHL mainstream media have grown so out of touch that they don’t know how to deliver reports that have actual real-world impact. This isn’t free agency frenzy. This isn’t the NHL Draft. This isn’t the trading deadline. This is a serious and delicate process in which human lives are at stake. Instead of vetting his source and finding the proper context to tell the whole story, John Shannon rattled off what his “source” told him, and ran with it. This is misleading and irresponsible reporting at the very most.

The point of what I’m writing is to raise awareness to you, the NHL fan. Sometimes we have to be careful with what these MSM talking heads say. We’re living in an extremely delicate time: Facts matter more than ever, and the context that surrounds those facts are critical. When it comes to public health, NHL personalities need to be held responsible for their reporting. Insiders need to realize when it’s important for the public to get the story of what’s going on rather than just a blind snippet without context that could create confusion, or outrage.

If the NHL does indeed jump the vaccination line so it can return to play, that’s going to raise a lot of questions. The biggest one: Why do athletes in North America’s least popular sport matter more than you, me, or the doctors and nurses who are at the frontlines fighting this virus?