JIM KELLEY: A MESSAGE FOR US

"I don’t ask you to agree with what I write, but I would hope you read it with an open mind, think about what’s being said and, hopefully, realize that there is always more than one way to see the game." — JIM KELLEY.

Jim Kelley took great pride in the profession of sports writing, a craft he practised until the day he died. Kelley filed his last column, a piece on Brian Burke for Sportsnet.ca, Tuesday, the same day he lost a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was just 61.

Kelley, a recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award in 2004, an honour that saw him inducted into the writing wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame, made his name with the Buffalo News and was one of the best hockey writers of his generation. At least I always thought so.

He was likely better known to younger fans as the silver-haired, bearded guy on Sportsnet.ca and radio station The Fan 590. First, though, Kelley was an old-school hockey scribe.

There are a lot of people, colleagues and peers, who knew Kelley a lot better than I did from the times we’d bump into each other at the rink in Buffalo, on the road here and there or at the NHL Entry Draft.

I’ll leave most of the accolades and kind words about Kelley, as a writer and a man, to them. I knew Kelley’s work better than I knew him, but he always made a point of saying hello, usually in the middle of pecking out a column or some notes, to visiting writers at HSBC Arena.

It’s that first paragraph, one Kelley wrote as part of his biography with Sportsnet.ca, that sticks with me today.

GET THE MESSAGE

Kelley was as learned about the game of hockey as anybody you’d ever meet. To use a cliche, he probably forgot as much about the game as I’ve ever known. He was connected. He was respected.

Kelley was equally as opinionated, as all good columnists are. The way he called out Dominik Hasek of the Sabres during the 1997 playoffs is still legend today. Given his credentials and perspective, I’m wondering if there’s something to be learned from what Kelley wrote in his bio. If there’s a refresher course in civility in there for those who share a passion for the game, be it specific to the Edmonton Oilers or otherwise.

When I read comments on websites like Oilersnation or from others around the internet — pick a day, any day in the comments sections of the best and most popular sites — I’m thinking there is. I know there is.

I’m not going to get into cutting and pasting examples of the way people on the internet get after each other. We know what gets said and how it gets said. Too often, in the name of debate or discourse, we go way over the line. I know I do.

If a writer like Kelley, or fellow Elmer Ferguson Award winner Jim Matheson right here in Edmonton, can get to the top of their professions by making their cases and taking a stand without shouting people down and demeaning those who disagree with them, maybe some of us should re-think how we approach debate.

I know I should.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The trend in sports writing today is to be brighter, tighter and punchier in delivering columns, opinions and game stories. Given the competition for readership and the demand for immediate information, it’s a must.

That said, sometimes, we go over-the-top with it. Likewise, the reactions to what’s written are a far cry from bad old days when disagreement was limited to the "Letters To The Editor" section of the newspaper.

The increased and immediate interaction between writers and those who read them at websites big and small is a good thing. How we go about that interaction often leaves something to be desired.

Robust debate is the lifeblood of sports fans, whether it’s between a few buddies watching the game at a corner bar or on a basement big screen or at sites like this. It can be about razzing somebody for a lame take or trotting out numbers to debunk a common misconception. It’s about fun. At least is should be. Decorum doesn’t mean we all have to agree.

I’ve never once heard Matheson take a mean-spirited personal shot at anybody, and there is nobody in the writing game I respect more. Matheson, who helped me break in on the Oilers beat many years ago, has always been an example of taking the high road, without even trying. I’ve followed his lead very poorly. Now, Kelley passes, and I can’t get that last paragraph from his bio out of my head.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Dyckster

    Awesome tribute Robin.

    Might I say though, don’t change your approach to journalism, especially as it relates to this sight, too drastically. Your views, and the way you present them are what make OilersNation unique. You are part of a great group of contributers to this sight. You all compliment each other extremely well, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke sir!

    RIP Mr. Kelley.

  • Robin,

    What a legend, posting an article on the day he passes is unbelievable. Great article, Robin.

    We all know you’d love to see Matty posting at Oilers Nation when he’s done with the Journal – what I wonder, though, is if he would be thick skinned enough to take the jabs from all of us idiots? Would he give it back?

    I was lucky enough to have had his wife as a teacher, and from the stories she told Jim is a pretty clever man. But since he’s always taking the high road, would he even want to deal with the crowds of jacka sses around here? You know him best, what do you think?

    • I’ve talked to Matty about what might happen for him down the line and I’ve told him I’d love to have him here.

      Would he want to deal with people here, or at other sites like this one, given the kind of things that get written? I don’t know, but I’d ask this: why should he have to?

      I can’t speak for anybody else so I won’t even try, but I don’t see the need to check dignity and respect at the door just because “it’s the internet.” I’ve been as guilty of that as anybody in responding to some of the things I’ve encountered and I’ve too often gone overboard with what started as a bit of a schtick.

      I don’t see any reason why people can’t debate and disagree without all the trash that seems to go with it these days.

      • Rob...

        Disregarding the trolls completely, you are left with those posters here who are downright caustic when disagreeing with someone, those who keep it civil until they come under attack themselves, and finally those angelic individuals who I can’t even comprehend, never mind describe (though I picture them all driving VW Buses painted in colourful flowers).

        Part of the ‘charm’ of this place is that the writers are quite willing to discuss differences of opinion with the fans, and seem intent on matching the level of civility they are shown… until that line is crossed. I personally respect the staff here more because of the fairness they show in where that line is drawn.

        I’d hate to see this change.

        • “Disregarding the trolls completely . . .”

          Failure to disregard them has been my biggest flaw since starting the blogging thing, although that’s changing.

          It’s so easy to spot somebody that’s simply out to get under your skin, those who only comment to take a contrary position. You can go back and see the same barbs and snide approach in comment after comment. You say it’s day, they say it’s night. You say it’s good, they say it’s bad. On and on.

          On an intellectual level, nothing a person like that has to say really matters to me. They don’t impact my livelihood, my happiness, my professional standing, etc etc.

          On another level, that sort of person has always driven me nuts. The brave guy who flips you off in traffic but wouldn’t do it face-to-face. The person who insults you and antagonizes to the extreme under the cloak of anonymity. It’s just so cowardly. So you go back at them with the same approach and wallow in the mud with ’em. In the end, what good does that do?

          I’m getting smarter about just letting that stuff go.

      • Bar Qu

        I’ve always gone with the understanding that I don’t say anything that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face (though that might not be a good rule of thumb for most people). I have to remind myself that the behaviour I show here or anywhere else is something that affects my character.

        By keeping in mind the fact that each person here is a human being deserving of some measure of respect helps me too. Mind you I don’t get pot shots taken at me as often as you, so it is easier to ignore stuff.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I had a ton of respect for Kelley. He was on the top of my list for guys that I’d listen to even though I could care less about some of the topics at hand.

    Then to find out that he was doing articles pretty much right up until he died, I’m left speechless.

  • Oilertown

    Greetings oilersnationers just a question for RB where can I find your pieces on NHL.com? keep going there to read your stuff but cant seem to find any if you could send me a link straight to your stuff it would be appreciated thanks

      • Oilertown

        awsomie and thanks for the quick reply Brownlee I have been reading your stuff since the early mid 80s and can never seem to get enough of the great reads from all the great writers like you and RIP Jim Kelley

      • Maggie the Monkey

        A few weeks ago you mentioned that you were in the process of writing a feature piece about the new young players in Edmonton, which I haven’t been able to track down. I think it was going to be published for NHL.com, but can’t remember for sure. Has it been finished/published? Can you post a link to it?

        Thanks for penning this thoughtful piece on Jim Kelley, and for all of your other great writing. The articles you and Gregor write that illuminate the lives and perspectives of people in hockey have the greatest impact on me. The stories of life experiences, regardless of scoreboards, scoresheets, or teams, are what draw me into the game.

  • Ender

    @ Robin

    While you were struck by Kelly’s first paragraph, the thing that resonates with me is yours. I just can’t imagine doing anything in my life that was so important to me that I’d still need to be doing it the week or even the day I died, loving my family excepted. To have the game be that much a part of your life – to still be that passionate about your writing as the curtain starts to draw closed – well, I just hope I come to care about something with that kind of intensity before I die. That’s someone who really lived.

    Thanks for sharing him with us today, RB.

  • positivebrontefan

    I agree, there are a lot of people out there that don’t care about hockey and just come on these places to be ignorant. There is nothing wrong with discussing different views but when people feel they are losing the discussion they turn to personal insults that have nothing to do with the topic in an attempt to try and make themselves feel better.

  • smiliegirl15

    Thanks for shining a little more light on the man behind the articles Robin.

    In all honesty, I appreciate your biting wit and am highly entertained by it. Especially a few posts later when whomever it was direct at posts again, only to prove your point went right over their heads.

    I think regardless of whether you agree with what someone has written or not, a certain amount of respect must come in order to be taken seriously in a stance against it.

  • O.C.

    Kudos for the piece Robin.

    Jim always smiled as he spoke. Never once did I see him interrupt Never once did I see him raise his voice in anger. Never once did I see him disrespect his fellow man, even if they were clearly inferior.

    Missed but not forgotten.

  • DimebagDave

    Yeah, the fisting is getting really annoying now. How about instead of fisting you pay a great hockey writer a little respect. RIP JK, I can imagine you and Burnsie are having a great conversation up there right now.