December 18, 2015

The lack of common human decency in hockey

If I remember, I'll add links later on this post.

So the the latest Hockey Twitter outrage is...on-ice trash talking. Which has been around since pretty much forever, really. With competition comes trash talking - it's just human nature.

However, the point of today's outrage isn't that it happened, but what was mentioned. A former NHLer, Patrick O'Sullivan, has written a book and a blog post for The Players' Tribune (a site produced by former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter) detailing the physical abuse that he suffered at the hands of his father while he was growing up. He mentioned on Twitter yesterday how another player - Alexandre Burrows - tried trash talking him during a game by using his childhood abuse and that's why he didn't like Burrows.

Then, of course, Burrows tried to backtrack by saying that he didn't realize it was so bad, and that "if" it was offensive he was sorry. (I'll give it to him, though - at least he owned up to it.) It's doubtful that he's actually sorry for saying it, since he didn't seem to have a problem saying it in the first place. It's far more likely that he's sorry that it created so much bad publicity for himself. Still, "if" it's offensive is a pretty laughable comment.

Which, naturally, set off the fans, bloggers, and some media about how awful that was that Burrows said that to O'Sullivan - no matter what the circumstances were. And then, to add insult to injury, it came out that an anonymous NHLer was quoted in an article that basically the women in other player's lives are "fair game", while children and pets aren't when it comes to trash talking.

So it's basically a consensus among NHLers that children and pets deserve far more respect than women, generally speaking.

Here's the thing for me: I've known for years that there's no honor nor respect among NHLers. I mean, there's a reason why injury reports are so general that it's almost laughable that they even bother distinguishing between "upper" and "lower" body injuries. It's totally because NHL officials know that if they give out the actual injuries, there will be players trying to take advantage of that information on the ice.

Having been an athlete myself, I know that trash talking isn't about being respectful. It's a tactic used to throw a competitor off his or her game. The entire point is to get into their heads so that they're distracted and not playing at their best. It happens all the time, in every sport, and at every level. And it's particularly bad when people don't teach their children about proper sportsmanship and how to lose gracefully.

I do have a problem with people claiming that it's a part of the hockey "code", however. First of all, there is no "code". It's just a term tossed around to make guys feel better about doing unsavory things that they have no real justification for doing. There are players that have individual standards of conduct that they adhere to, but that's about as far as any "code" goes.

Also, I've always thought that trash talking is pretty juvenile. There are better ways to throw someone off their game - like outplaying them, for example. I never found a use for it when I was an athlete, and it never bothered me when someone tried doing it to me. I found it funny more times than not, in fact, because it was so silly that they'd bother.

And, frankly, if you let someone manipulate you with something as obvious as trash talking, then you deserve what you get.

The only times I've ever talked trash was when I was joking around with friends playing a casual game. I've never done it seriously. Why bother? I've got better things to do than to waste my breath on something that probably won't even work. It takes too much time and effort to come up with that kind of crap when I could be thinking about the next play.

Honestly, I've never held NHLers up to some high moral standard, so that part doesn't actually bother me very much. Competition either brings out the best or the worst in people, and that's just human nature. I do think that there are lines that people shouldn't cross, but that comes down to simple human decency rather than putting anyone up on a pedestal.

If you're going to trash talk, then keep it to the person directly in front of you. Don't involve their history of mental illness, any past abuse of any kind, any addictions or suicidal stuff, any family members, or any significant others. Involving others outside of the person your trash talking, or bringing up traumatic stuff, isn't creative. It's contemptible.

If you really need a code of conduct to live by while on the ice during a game, then here's a very simple one for you: Don't be an asshole.