Wayne Gretzky caught the world's attention when he recently launched into a tirade, lashing out at the "American propagandaat the Salt Lake City Winter Olympiad. He accused the US media of rejoicing in the fact that the Canadian hockey team was struggling in its early matches and publicizing rumors and innuendo about Team Canada.
The Boston Herald (February 19) reported that, in reference to the American media, Gretzky ranted, "They're loving us not doing well. It's a big story for them. It's such a crock of bull ..."
Although Gretzky later recanted his charge against the US media, he stuck by his other allegations. In Wayne's world, everyone is out to get Canada, hoping that it will lose. He further argued against the refereeing in Canada's games, and suggested that a rough play by a European player would come back to haunt him when NHL play resumed.
American newspapers weren't sure what to make of Gretzky's comments. They described his outburst as "bizarre
while describing the Great One as having suffered a meltdown.
A few reports concentrated on the dismissal of Gretzky's charges as nonsense.
In the coverage analyzed by Media Watch, there seemed to be no support whatsoever for any of Gretzky's outrageous accusations. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (February 19) responded by asking the rhetorical questions, "The world likes hating Canada? Is Gretzky delusional?"
Gretzky's comments drew attention to the fact that Canada, which invented hockey, had not won a gold medal in the sport for 50 years, and was under tremendous pressure to bring home the Olympic title. Expectations were high for Canada this year, as it had Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player ever, as executive director of Team Canada, along with superstar Mario Lemieux leading the team on the ice. The Washington Post (February 20) referred to hockey as "Canada's national religion,
and described the pressure to win nothing less than gold as "immense."
Another factor that contributed to Gretzky's outburst garnering so much attention was that it was so out of character for him. Newspapers contrasted the wild allegations with the calm, cool, and collected manner that he was known for when he played the game and dealt with journalists.
But a number of reporters did not take Gretzky's comments at face value.
To these journalists, Gretzky's outburst was less perplexing. They interpreted the incident as a calculated means of Gretzky firing up his team and motivating them to give a better performance in future matches. The Montreal Gazette (February 20) appeared to understand The Great One's motives and suggested, "Gretzky achieved the desired result
with his "brilliantly timed rant."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 20) agreed, writing, "It appears more and more as though Gretzky ... was stoking his players rather than criticizing others."
If that was the Great One's plan, it worked, as Canada went on to beat Finland 2-1 in the quarterfinal, Belarus 7-1 in the semifinal, and the Team USA 5-2 in the gold-medal match.
Though his comments still sting some in the media, the team he assembled succeeded in ending the hockey-crazed nation's 50-year gold-medal drought.
And that, in the end, was all the vindication Gretzky needed.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.