I literally cannot fathom being a professional hockey player: willingly putting ones body in danger, waking up sore every day, getting pummeled by 90 MPH shots (and not screaming, “OUCH! THAT HURT!” every time), plus having to be that competitive and that UP for every game.
My Type B-verging-on-C personality, my fear of pain and injury, and my negative rating on the Scale of Athleticism all lead me to look at pro players on the ice (and especially in the playoffs) and see superhumans.
So, the most surprising thing to come out of being credentialed media and talking to players after games is that most are smaller, thinner, and more soft spoken than I expected. They have ice bags strapped to body parts, black eyes, and butterfly bandages on lacerations. They pause before speaking, not always because they don’t know what to say, but because they’re exhausted.
It’s in this setting that the cape comes off and players become at least a little human to me.
Still, I struggle with the juxtaposition between this average-sized, mellow young man talking into my micro-recorder, with the guy I just watched for 60 minutes, barreling through defenders, crushing and being crushed, processing the game at a speed I can’t even imagine, and giving life to hockey like a giant.
So it’s understandable when people aren’t 100% in touch with the reality that players are made of blood and flesh and bone and brain and heart. They experience fear and joy and pain and distractions just like us mortals.
The fact that, in NHL circles, some of them are making more money per year than many of us will make in a lifetime further serves to put players on this weird, not-really-one-of-us pedestal.
I have to assume it’s always been this way. From our couches, athletes are just two-dimensional characters playing out the story: heroes and villains, sometimes switching roles, sometimes being both at once, depending on who you ask.
Back in the day, you’d scream at the TV, curse their mamas, lob threats of fiery demise over the coffee table and then take out the trash and go to bed. Now, with social media taking over everything, we have access to boo and hiss directly at players, in real time, right to their phones and computers.
In these venues, it’s often all too apparent that a portion of fans either don’t get the concept that there’s a person at the other end, or they just don’t give a shit.
And I’m not just talking about the kind of hate aimed at Washington’s Joel Ward this past week, which is a whole different (disgusting) animal. I’m talking about, people who just spew derision and hate at players because they have a venue to do so.
Check out a player’s Twitter mentions after they do something a little shady on the ice. The venom pours in. It will make you sad for humanity, I guarantee it.
And it’s not just players. I see it happen to writers and analysts and team representatives. Billy Jaffe, who is one of my favorite analysts on NHL Tonight and I would very much like to have a beer with him, actually re-tweets his “hate mail,” which cleverly neutralizes it, but probably also encourages it a bit.
It happens on Facebook, too, even to the nicest guys. The Wild wished poor, eternally concussed winger Pierre Marc Bouchard a happy birthday on their wall this week. They had a big picture of him at a player event where a butterfly landed on his shirt. He’s THAT nice of a guy that a delicate creature like that would go, “Yeah, I think I’ll rest on you, little bald fella.”
The first comment – the very FIRST ONE! – was some derisive thing about how he’s just going to get hurt again next season and be out. Seriously, jerkface? The guy has been suffering from concussions for 2 seasons and you can’t be nice just this once?
I’m not innocent, of course. I’ve indirectly taken guys to task many times (never to their Twitter accounts), and probably in ways that were too harsh for the circumstances. (I’m sorry, Benoit Pouliot. Sorta.) But I’m trying at least, to think, “Is this analysis I can stand behind or am I just being a shithead?” (Or, “Is this funny enough that it’s worth being a shithead?” which also passes muster if the answer is yes.)
Every time I see the Golden Rule being taken out back and shot by some blowhard, I get this wave of visceral ickiness washing over me. It feels like we as fans are abandoning our own humanity when we think we can just say whatever abusive thing we want to a total stranger, just because they play a game we care about.
I’d like to think we hockey junkies are better than that, more decent than that (mainly because our lot is comprised of so many Canadians), but I suspect I’m just being naive.
Look, I’m not advocating for blowing smoke up someone’s butt or being a bunch of glassy-eyed Pollyannas. Just, you know, consider for a second that another human is at the end of that angry message you’re firing off into the abyss… and your name is attached to it. Doesn’t it just feel like bad mojo?
Maybe that’s why hockey was destined to come to the South, where the saying is, “If you don’t have something nice to say, say it behind their backs.”
P.S. Also, stop asking for retweets, for the love of God.