Surly and I have talked about this topic a few times though we haven’t discussed it for a while – been busy with the whole we are the Stanley Cup Champions thing. Today, I read a comment on Hammond’s site that lifted this ever relevant question from the shelf. You are probably familiar that Rich Hammond does this thing called “Open Forum” and allows readers and fans to post questions that he then answers. It’s a cool idea although, bluntly, I have not yet had a question to ask him about the team or him. One reader who calls himself “jonbb11″ asked this. Read it and Rich’s answer:

jonbb11asked: Hey can anyone answer what NHL team Rich actually roots for?

Answer: It’s fascinating how the comments to this question went off in a completely incorrect direction, and then how that incorrect direction became accepted as fact, and then how I got criticized for that incorrect direction. Sadly, I think that’s an increasingly relevant commentary on the way people consume and believe news today, but that’s a different rant. I love hockey and I’m not a Kings fan, nor do I have a favorite team. I love pizza and I don’t exclusively eat Domino’s, either. I’ve been in daily print journalism since 1995 and I’ve covered dozens of teams. I’m not a fan of all of them. That would be rather absurd. I’ve answered this question honestly for five years, the same way, every time, but some people don’t believe it so I’ve stopped arguing for the most part, but I hope this clarifies things.

Rich comes across defensive in his answer and, perhaps, for good reason. This is his job and paycheck on the line and if he says something that angers his employer, it could be the end of his job. That is one of the advantages of truly being independent of the team like Surly and I are – we don’t give a damn about that nor do we have to – we just care that you like what we write, even if you disagree with it, or, at a minimum, it entertains you. But Rich doesn’t have that advantage. He has to “walk a line,” even if he would disagree with that assessment and he has directly.

But what about fandom? What about writing with a passion, fervor or, hell, even outward enthusiasm? That’s at the heart of being a fan. When a die-hard or even a casual fan goes to games, they don’t go and speak in short sentences and a monotone voice about the team’s play. They smile, laugh, yell, scream, chant, occasionally curse (for Surly more than occasionally) and show “emotions” that range from love and elation to grief and depression.

Even our friend Quisp must jump up and down and join in the revelry while knocking out a spread sheet about the Corsi rating of the fan’s enthusiasm in relation to the decibel level of the noise emanating from the arena speakers…and you know what? I would read it because I dig that shit!

And The Royal Half must certainly high-five those around him even though they have yet to see his face…

And Paul must record all of the cheering and chants and put together a compilation on a CD to share with fellow fans because that’s how he rolls!

And Gann Matsuda must remind everyone that he considers himself a journalist and not a blogger…but I digress…

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that, right?

Being an excellent beat writer and being an L.A. Kings fan are not mutually exclusive. One could have a deep passion for the Kings, be a great writer, know the sport of hockey well enough to write about it and still write objectively and professionally, with the appropriate level of verve infused therewith.

“Bobby, you should be the L.A. Kings beat writer!”

I appreciate your love but I wouldn’t take the job…and the L.A. Kings aren’t that non compos mentis.

Back to the question of whether the L.A. Kings beat writer should be an L.A. Kings fan…it’s not mandatory, as we have seen. Rich does an average, sometimes above, job. Surly and I recognize how much potential for greatness, elevating the positive exposure of the team and entertainment the beat writer position has – imagine if Rich could write about the X’s and O’s of hockey, ask questions relevant thereto, educate the casual Kings fans (especially now that many are jumping on the bandwagon) in the process, write pre and post games that are not just numbers but talk about pivotal moments you saw and perhaps didn’t see but factored into the win or loss, get regular and exclusive player interviews apart from the media scrum, use a writing style that is not just spam on toast but entertaining, use wit akin to the L.A. Kings Twitter account to draw in opposing fans of teams before and after game day and so much more…

“Should be an L.A. Kings fan?” If that element includes prose, more than a basic and foundational knowledge about the sport and the charm and personality for the job, yes, the beat writer should be an L.A. Kings fan. But who said that’s what the L.A. Kings would even want? There is a lot of to be said in the business world for “controlling the message.”

Thoughts?