You Don't Have to Play to Critique and Comment

If you follow me on Twitter or you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, then you might remember a conversation I had with a professional sports commentator a few weeks ago. I’m not going to re-open that conversation, lest I get accused of being an e-bully again, but I’d like to bring up one of the critical arguments made during that heated conversation.

You see, this hockey commentator once played in the NHL. As part of our back-and-forth exchange, he reminded me of this fact, implying that it made him more qualified to do his current job than anyone else. In one sense, you could say that the professional playing experience offers him a different perspective into the game than people who may not have been quite as intimately involved with hockey operations. However, I don’t think that having played something automatically makes you more qualified to critique or comment on that something.

This idea is roughly an extension of another blog post that I wrote earlier this year. In that post, I said that you don’t have to play a sport in order to enjoy watching it. Aside from some random floor hockey I played in high school, I’ve never actually played hockey. Not at a professional level, not at an amateur level, not at an intramural level. Does that make me “less of a fan” as a result? I don’t think so.

By the same extension, the best players in the game may not be the most qualified to commentate on the game. There are lots of great sports commentators and analysts who have never played the game professionally. It takes a completely different set of skills to be able to play the game exceptionally well than it does to analyze that exact same game. Many of the best military strategists may not have ever fought on the front lines.

Another great example of this in an entirely different realm? The man shown in the image at the top of this post. Roger Ebert is arguably one of the best movie critics of all time and, to my knowledge, he hasn’t otherwise “participated” in the movie business in another professional role. He’s not an actor, but he can critique an actor’s performances. He’s not a director, but he can comment on how a film is put together. He’s not a screenwriter, but he can talk about how a plot is filled with holes.

Along with many other people in this city, I think that Ryan Kesler is a great hockey player. Does this mean that he’d make a great coach? A great play-by-play commentator? A great hockey team owner? No, not necessarily, but that’s perfectly acceptable and understandable. These roles all take different skill sets and areas of expertise. Being able to play effectively and critique effectively are entirely different challenges.