Boo Business! Yay Beards!
Nothing in sports quite says more important than life itself than the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Better still, the Stanley Cup playoffs are steeped in traditions and customs. From the end-of-series handshake line -- and yes, that's where all other sports got the idea -- to the fear of touching the cup, the NHL playoff season is a culture in its own right.
And the one tradition that stands above the rest is the playoff beard.
It's existed since the 1980s and has since grown into a lasting image of all-or-nothing springtime hockey:
This tradition came under attack on Tuesday, when, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus admitted that he pushed the NHL and the players to end the playoff beard tradition.
Lazarus knows his idea is far from popular, but he believes that the beards hurt viewers' recognition of the players. Lazarus believes that if the players went with the clean-shaven look, they'd attract more endorsement deals because, for some reason, they'd be more widely known.
I understand Lazarus’s point of view. As a self-proclaimed “TV guy,” dude knows of the past struggles that the NHL has had in attracting viewers. As a businessman, he wants what's best for his business. Getting better player recognition -- aka brand identity -- is a way of helping the NHL’s perceived popularity issue, which actually seems to be less of an issue these days.
But sometimes sports have to be more than a business.
The attraction of sports is due to things like playoff beards. People don’t want to see their athletes in suits with clean-shaven faces. They want athletes in torn uniforms sporting big beards that show the time and commitment that it takes to win North America's oldest team trophy.
If the NHL wants to keep gaining viewers, it needs customs like playoff beards. This isn't a bland, corporate-image competition. Fans want players with personalities, dudes who cry when they lose and jump when they win.
The movie North Dallas Forty best captured the struggle between the sport itself and the business behind it.
Personally, I say let the beards grow.
If you can’t recognize Steve Stamkos because of his beard or Patrick Kane because of his mullet, then you probably need to pay closer attention. With the intensity on display out there, it's not tough to do.
Plus, who else doesn’t love the idea of sticking it to a stuck up businessman?