While you look at photos of “what’s left” after last year’s Kontinental Hockey League’s plane crash, Bernie Goldberg laments the tragedy and asks a question: “Why were some of the world’s best hockey players on this plane in the first place?” Goldberg’s segment for this week’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel provides some possible answers. Initially focused through the story of Ruslan Salei, whose widow Bethann and their four-year-old hockey-playing son offer a glimpse at the consequences of KHL’s bad decisions, the segment points out that the KHL has recently been offering players huge contracts in order to rebuild Russia’s reputation as a hockey powerhouse. But it has not looked after them. Goldberg speaks with a Russian pilot now flying for a US carrier, former KHL coach Barry Smith, and a current player whose identity is obscured because he “fears retribution.” All point to the atrocious conditions of the planes used for teams, old Soviet contraptions flown by undertrained pilots.
As further evidence of the KHL’s everyday negligence and budget-cutting, Goldberg notes as well the death of 19-year-old Alexei Cherepanov in 2008. His “heart gave out during the middle of a KHL game,” says Goldberg, a terrible event amplified by the fact that the league didn’t have even the most rudimentary emergency equipment on hand—not a stretcher, not a defibrillator—and, not incidentally, Cherepanov had been receiving stimulants from the team doctors, despite his known heart condition. These incidents have led to changes in how the KHL does business, namely, the “Clean Ice” program or the decision taken by KHL after the interview with HBO to ensure that teams fly on “top tier, Western-made jets.”
Goldberg’s disturbing, utterly smart report is accompanied by profiles of base jumper Jeb Corliss and former super-agent Leigh Steinberg, whose career was derailed by drinking. “You were “depicted as boorish, unstable, abusive, out of touch with your clients, a drunk and, and a womanizer,” says reporter Armen Keteyian. “I mean, am I missing anything there that they said about you?” Steinberg tries to parse and undermine this list: “I also killed Christ,” he doesn’t quite smile, then insists he would never abuse his clients. But the segment leaves no question as to the costs of his addiction.