Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chris Botta: Death of a Blogger

The tale of Chris Botta is a strange one. Here is a guy who, for 20 years, worked with the New York Islanders as the PR Director and then afterwards, became a blogger with a team sponsorship, then when sponsorship was up, he wrote passionately about the team he loved.

The problem with passion is, often times it gets the person with said "passion" into trouble. Botta, while writing about the Isles, became harsher and harsher in his criticism of the team, and supposedly broke conduct and team rules for reporters. Reports out of the team suggested Botta had increasingly gone from reporting the news to becoming the news. Many times the criticism was directed at Garth Snow, the GM. He slammed him for firing then head coach Scott Gordon. Shortly thereafter, he had his press credentials revoked.

It's all old news, this story. It happened last fall and literally had national AND international coverage. Respected reporters from TSN and CBC such as James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, and Jeff Marek had harsh things to say about the whole situation. The Islanders as a team were in seriously troubled waters in the PR department, something that they had issues to begin with because of the eccentric owner and ex-goalie GM, not to mention the doormat status the team as a whole has had really since the dynasty years.

Michael Grabner: Rookie of the Year? Sadly not likely.
It's now 6-plus months later. The Islanders are out of the playoffs again, to no one's surprises. There is some  hope because of a second half run that had them in the playoff conversation again. The Chris Botta Saga, for the most part, is forgotten. Near seasons end, many professional writers boycotted the annual awards balloting because of what had happened to Botta. Writers from the Rangers, Devils, and the Predators stepped up to the plate for him and said "this isn't right". Botta said he had nothing to do with it.

Quoted from his blog:

So that there is 100% certainty, understand this: I was not, in any way, behind the movement by the local chapters of the PHWA to protest the Islanders’ decision to ban me by not participating in the balloting for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng and Selke awards. I also did not participate in any of the voting by the three chapters. I was aware of the New York chapter’s decision because they first voted on it three months ago before confirming its vote this week. I learned of the actions of the Long Island and New Jersey chapters around the same time most of you did.

The problem is, Botta is still at the root of the problem. What this turned into was a "poor Grabner poor Neilsen" plee from the Isles themselves. Grabner, maybe yes. Neilsen? I think thats pushing it. The whole thing started with Botta's passion for the team and essentially demanding they put a better product on the ice getting the better of his judgement and he took it too far.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that originally,  really WAS the source for Islanders news on the web for fans outside of New York. I live in Newfoundland, Canada. Without a doubt, I am one of the loudest, proudest Islanders fans there ever was and ever will be. I started watching hockey right around the end of the  dynasty. Chris Botta made me feel like I was right there, as a part of the action. His reports made me feel like I was right in the loop of something special. Chris Botta, when he keeps his emotions in check, is an excellent sports writer. I followed him to AOL Fanhouse, and still to this day visit Islanders Point Blank.

Are Garth and  Charles getting the "I'm sorry" notes? I doubt it.
The problem now is that the site is a shadow of it's former self. Every post and every video interview is an "I love the Islanders, I'm SO SORRY" apology note to Garth Snow. Most everything on the site is sickeningly positive by comparison to the hard hitting, truthful reporting of when the site was originally conceived. I'm not talking about the ultra negative reports. I'm talking about the realistic reports from when the site was first up. The ones that made me feel like I was a part of something special because I was a fan of the Islanders. In many of his video interviews with some very influential people in the sports reporting world, we see Botta literally steering his guests into saying positive things about the team, rather than letting them say their piece. Only Gord Miller, of TSN's NHL on TSN, truly managed to spit out "I don't think it's going to work next year", citing issues with goaltending, ownership, and the stadium situation as reasons.

I don't know if Chris Botta will ever read this. My blog is most certainly not a regular on the bookmarks of anyone important. But, if he does, I hope he understands that this all happened because of him. The team was just protecting itself and it's property. Why let some guy in to games and practices if he's only going to bitch about them? It does them no good. Did they go about it the right way? HELL NO.Just because I understand what they did and why they did it, I don't have to agree with it. They turned something that should have been a simple matter cooling a guy off into an international PR disaster. On top of that, they've ignored it ever since. The real sad part of this is, Botta, for all his misguided passion,  is a fantastic writer, and I truly miss his "real" Islanders reporting.

I've defended Chris Botta on this blog more than once, I've also played devils advocate and criticized him as well. But in the end, I still believe that this was all about passion. Passion, for all it's amazing abilities to bring the better out of people, also can go the opposite direction, and do some very, very bad things. Botta let his passion get the best of him, and in turn we get to see an ailing team PR wise get even worse, we get professional writers boycotting voting and making a mockery of the NHL awards, we sadly may see a great rookie season by an underdog player go unrecognized, and all essentially a drama that the team he loves, the New York Islanders, could certainly do without.

I do hope in the end that things will work themselves out, and Chris Botta will be allowed to return. Imagine the great PR the team would get for saying "Chris, why not come and drop a faceoff puck for us? Forget the writing, we just want you as a fan, a real fan, to come and celebrate what a great team we now have with us." I suppose in a perfect world...


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