Getting Adjectival with Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby

I love the new SPORTSCENTER commercial with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Semyon Varlamov:

It’s funny, in that Ovechkin is caught doing some “late-night filing” and is jokingly accused of being a spy. The payoff is that he’s actually spying on ESPN, along with Varlamov, who helps Ovechkin escape.

What’s interesting about the commercial is how it reinforces Ovechkin as an outsider. He’s someone not of our culture. The commercial plays with the fear that not only is Ovechkin an outsider, but perhaps he’s even spying on us.

If you look at how Ovechkin is described in the media, he tends to be portrayed as flawed, where Sidney Crosby tends to be portrayed in more flattering terms. But it got me wondering if this was true, or if it was just my imagination. So I decided to do some searching.

I searched the All News (English) file of LexisNexis Academic for all available dates. It’s a fairly comprehensive file and skews North American, which is good when you’re talking hockey. I basically searched for occurrences of Crosby or Ovechkin and my search term, excluding each from the other’s search. It’s not a perfect methodology (see footnote for detailed methodology), but the results are interesting.

As you’d probably expect, Ovechkin tends to be referred to as a dirty player. Maybe he is a dirty player. But he’s not this dirty:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as dirty

Conversely, Crosby tends to be referred to as heroic a lot more frequently than Ovechkin (even in NHL-created commercials):

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as heroic

Crosby is also considered a lot more modest and polite:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as modest

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as polite

I think of flashy as an adjective with negative connotations, implying a certain lack of depth. The term tended to be used more with Ovechkin than Crosby:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as flashy

Crosby tended to appear more frequently with variations on the word dazzle, though, which surprised me. Crosby is a great player, but there’s something inherently dull about him. I don’t think of him as dazzling. Apparently, I’m in the minority on that, though:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as dazzling

Because Ovechkin is often seen as immodest and boastful, I thought his name would appear a lot with the term limelight, but that was more of a Crosby word:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and limelight

I attribute a lot of how Ovechkin is treated by the media to his being a non-North American. I thought Ovechkin would appear a lot with variations on the word foreign, but the results were actually closer than I expected. Still, foreign was more of an Ovechkin word:

number of references to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as foreign

The Ovechkin SPORTSCENTER is funny, but a huge part of why it works is because of the way we see Ovechkin here in North America. Not to get too academic, but if you happen to have access to Project MUSE, this article from Canadian Review of American Studies explores the humor we find in the “foreign” (the article looks at THE DAILY SHOW WITH JOHN STEWART, though, not SPORTSCENTER commercials).

And in case anyone is wondering, I don’t think there’s a deeper meaning behind ESPN’s Albert Pujols-as-robot commercial.

That’s just funny.



Methodology note: The searches were based around the template of sidney and (crosby w/5 search term!) and NOT Ovechkin and (ovechkin w/5 search term!) and NOT crosby. Basically, the search is looking for the word Crosby or Ovechkin within five words of the search term. I excluded Crosby from Ovechkin’s searches and Ovechkin from Crosby’s searches so I knew the adjective was referring solely to the player being searched, and wasn’t being used in a comparison. The exclamation point is a wildcard character to capture variations on a word. Like hero! would find hero, heroes, and heroic (all of the actual searches can be found here).