“Is hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while five other guys use sticks to try and kill us, oh yeah did I mention that this whole time we’re standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. Next question.”– Brendan Shanahan. There is perhaps only one rule in all of sports that cannot be questioned and that is the national dominance of ESPN. It is without question the first place the majority of America looks for sports coverage.. For decades hockey was unanimously considered one of the four major sports: greats like Gretzky, Messier, Orr and Lemieux were legitimate superstars. Now, the only two players even approaching national acceptance are Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby has received the endorsements, backed up the hype with stellar play, and led his team to a Stanley Cup appearance in only his third year. What else does the guy have to do to gain national acceptance? One could argue that he doesn’t have the personality to be popular on the national scene, but then what explains LeBron James, a player with similar credentials to Crosby’s playing in a league (the NBA) with similar attendance rates? James hasn’t given a memorable quote in his entire time in the league, but he is loved and feared for his ridiculous physical ability. How is Crosby any different? The answer is exposure: James gets it on ESPN and Crosby doesn’t. Want to know something else about the NBA? The ESPN family of networks owns the full rights. The consumer lost a whole lot of trust in the NHL during the 2004-05 lockout, when owners and players squabbled over money and denied fans a season. But the game came back with a vengeance, instituting new rules that increased scoring and led to less defensive struggles. The issue is not the lockout but ESPN’s systematic assassination of the sport. The next time you hear hockey getting some substantial airtime on Sportscenter, ask yourself: did a crazy fight or dirty hit go down that might warrant a suspension or a discussion about the “violence” of hockey? That’s about all hockey gets in the world of ESPN. I’m not biased: I’ve never even played competitive hockey in my life. But if you like the fluidity of basketball or the physicality of football, come on down. A good one timer is as fluid as it gets, and last time I checked, the NHL was the only major professional league in which fighting warrants only a five minute fine. For now, it appears as if we’ve gotten to the point where ESPN can try to submarine an entire league and, in all likelihood, succeed. Tip of the Moss hat to Jack Dickey for this theory.