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January 17, 2013

Maize N' View: When criticism goes too far

Earlier this week, Yahoo Sports' Eric Adelson spoke to U-M freshman guard Nik Stasukas about the negative tweets he received following a poor performance in a loss at Ohio State Sunday. Then Monday, sophomore Alex Guptill lashed out at the media and fans criticizing the hockey team, leading one to ask: when is the line crossed?

Speaking to a small handful of reports following practice Monday, Guptill was asked about the mood in the locker room, and quickly turned his attention to those outside Yost Ice Arena.

"Everyone is kind of on us in the media," he said. "It's tough. You have to find a positive vibe somewhere, try to turn it around and start winning. But it's not easy when you're reading all these things saying guys are missing open nets. As if we're not trying.

"We have guys calling us out all the time, but we have pride when we put on the Michigan sweater and for people to call us out is kind of disgusting."

Red Berenson has always run his program like an NHL team, insisting players talk to the media after wins or losses, whether they're feeling great or feeling miserable. He preaches accountability, and when he learned of Guptill's comments, he issued a message to his team.

"They're worrying about the wrong things," he said. "I'm not worried about those things. I'm just worried about our team playing better, and working harder, and anything they get is something they deserve.

"The only thing our players can go on is what they've done, and it's pretty clear it's not good enough. It's not good enough for Michigan, for the CCHA. We're siting in 10th place. We have the most losses in the conference. I can't remember when that happened.

"This team has to suck it up and take the heat."

There is a difference, though, in what Stauskas, and likely Guptill, faced from social media engagements and what a credible journalist writes. Or so I would argue.

I, in fact, have criticized this hockey team, considerably. I have said that they don't play as a team. That the leadership is lacking, the goalie play has been terrible, the defensive breakdowns - from both defensemen and forwards - are inexcusable, and that this season has sunk to new lows with each inexplicable loss.

Those are strong words of condemnation, but they're not personal attacks. They're not threatening in nature. They're not delivered because of an emotional reaction, one of anger or frustration, but in an objective manner written in a story or sent out as a tweet, but not one of those criticisms was directed at an individual or delivered to an individual via a social media platform or in-person.

"When you're reporting the news, or reporting sports, you report what you see," Berenson said. "It doesn't matter what you think about it, whether it's a car accident or a train wreck on the ice. You report what you see. That's your job."

And we'll continue to do our job, but we're not in the business of taking cheap shots, and no good journalist is.

I have never called a kid an embarrassment or questioned effort, the latter one of those silly presumptions made too often that "the players don't even care." Or that their heart isn't it, or worst of all, that they don't share the same passion as the fan base.

Such declarations are utterly ridiculous. Understand the commitment it takes to reach this level, witness the time they put in to practice, film sessions, classwork, and conditioning. See the physical and mental limits they push themselves to every day of the week, and how excited they are to put on the maize and blue on game day, and you would never, ever question their desire.

Are you allowed to be disappointed with results? Absolutely. Michigan's loss to the Buckeyes was exactly that, and the hockey team's sweep at the hands of Alaska dropped this team further below .500 than in any time in 25 years, but to direct that frustration at the young men giving everything of themselves for Michigan is ignorant and flat-out wrong.

Stauskas didn't deserve to be inundated with tweets that blamed him for the loss or told him he was awful, and Guptill is right - his effort and that of his teammates should not be questioned. They are trying. They do have great pride and understand the legacy of the NCAA streak is on the line; they are determined not to let down the program, the coaches, and the players that came before them.

Be frustrated with results, offer appropriate criticism, but don't get personal, and don't take to social media to point the finger. Frankly, if you're that mad, seek out the one person that is responsible for your mood - yourself.


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