Eric Byrnes

Jeremy Roenick and fake fans

Jeremy Roenick called Patrick Marleau “gutless” after the Sharks gave away Game 5 at home against Detroit, and it accomplished what Roenick has done often throughout his long career in hockey — it brought attention both to the sport and Roenick himself. I don’t really know what to say about the comment’s validity, as I have nowhere near the hockey background to decipher whether Marleau was or wasn’t innards-deficient until scoring the series-clinching goal last night. I simply saw it like Randy Hahn — a way for Roenick to further his broadcasting career.

Which brings me to another point, the one really bothersome thing about Roenick’s angle on the issue — the fact that he’s hiding behind this idea that he’s somehow a diehard San Jose Sharks fan. Yes, Roenick was at the end of his career before Doug Wilson called and asked if he had some more hockey left in him. But how are we to believe that a guy who’s selling himself on television, who played 21 years in the NHL for five franchises, a guy who cried on TV when his first team, the Chicago Blackhawks, won the Stanley Cup a year ago, bleeds teal?

It’s not just Roenick who pulls this stunt in hopes of furthering his broadcasting career. It’s a tactic used by so many player-turned-announcers getting their start behind the microphone that it’s impossible to believe any of these guys. F.P. Santangelo (who played for four teams, including the Giants for one season) trumpeted his love for the San Francisco Giants every chance he got while working for KNBR and Comcast before jetting off to the East Coast to be the lead color analyst for the Washington Nationals. Now Eric Byrnes, who played for five teams, is doing the equivalent of wearing an orange foam finger most weeknights. While he grew up in the area and purportedly rooted for the Giants as a kid, the only Bay Area squad he ever played for resides in Oakland.

Who knows, maybe Roenick, Santangelo and Byrnes really do love the teams they profess to hold so dear. But it’s all just a little too convenient. Except for the players on the field (and sometimes, even them), everyone on television is acting to a certain extent. Dramatic actors, talking heads, news anchors, reality show “stars” — they’re all playing characters. And whether it’s to ingratiate themselves to local fans or add supposed legitimacy to a controversial statement, former players with broadcasting aspirations have to play the part of “loyal fan.” However, after hearing the phrase, “it’s a business” in reference to professional sports for so long, why should we believe that team loyalty has to do with anything other than where a former athlete’s paychecks are coming from?

As competition for broadcasting jobs gets ever fiercer, these supposed fans will only become more common. You can bet that Mark DeRosa will be the biggest Giants fan you ever saw once Comcast SportsNet Bay Area hires him after this season — unless he gets hired by NESN, then he’ll be the biggest Sawx backer you’ve ever seen. It’s the way of the business. And Roenick isn’t the first athlete to pull the “I don’t want to rip this player, but I just love the team so much” card. But in justifying his insults of Marleau, he probably did it in the crassest and most disingenuous way we’ve seen in quite some time.

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