July 26, 2016

Just because you work with someone doesn't mean you have to like them

Here's a reality check: Evander Kane has been known to be an elite hockey player destined for the NHL since he was a young boy. He's had all sorts of coaches, tutors, mentors, and role model figures around him, preparing him for the moment, like most star players. He's chosen to ignore it and, for reasons none of us particularly know, act in public like he's allowed to do whatever he wants.

"Well-paid" shouldn't buy him get out of jail free cards. "Talented" only matters on the ice. "Fun-loving" sounds great, until you wonder how much fun all of his accusers were having if what they've all repeatedly been saying holds true. There's no excuse for selfish, and the portrayal of a "boys will be boys" stubbornness is toxic.
You have two camps in fan bases and media.

The first camp is that athletes should be treated just like anyone else. And if someone at work is having legal problems, and it's public, then they tend to not be around work much. Because people don't want to deal with an accused criminal; they find it uncomfortable and creepy. They see the man and the player as one individual.

The other camp is that athletes aren't human, but are instead sports robots who help their teams win. So it doesn't matter what happens off the ice, so long as the guy can contribute to the winning. Because their team winning is all that matters. They separate the man from the player, because it's convenient.

It seems as if players don't seem to mind when a guy acts less than legally. And that can be due to the fact that the guys doing criminal things don't talk about those things with his teammates. So that'd be understandable. And then there's the teammate aspect - you have to play with the guy, so you overlook some things that maybe you don't agree with if you do know some of the stuff that's going on.

On the other hand, teams and / or teammates defending them in public - once certain things are known publicly, that is - seems like poor judgment to fans that believe the guy should be shunned due to his illicit activities. It's turning a blind eye to someone who children and some adults look up to that perhaps they shouldn't. Trying to ignore there's a problem suggests that you don't think there's a problem with someone being an abuser, rapist, assaulting others, or whatever.

Which isn't to say that they have to come out and say what they think in detail. Acknowledging that this player is a teammate and that you're not going to comment on their personal problems is the most graceful way out, and then moving on from that is best. It's the "I support my teammate 100%, and if he says he didn't do anything wrong then I believe him" stuff that's not the best approach public relations-wise.

Ultimately, the problem isn't that someone like Evander Kane is doing this stuff - although, that is a problem. The problem is that no one's helping him realize it's a problem. It's one thing to make a mistake and then learn from it. But when a guy like him or Patrick Kane are saying they did nothing wrong, and they're still getting arrested for things, and the teams and teammates are backing them up...that's not a pretty picture for the rest of humanity.

And maybe that's because NHLers and the former NHLers now running teams don't understand what the problem actually is. Which is a massively huge problem in and of itself. I mean, how do you not know how to treat fellow human beings on the street? And then also thinking that treating them what the majority of people in both Canada and the US consider badly is okay?

The sad part is that this goes so much deeper than the NHL. The prevailing culture of the NHL is the exact same as what's going on in the minor leagues and the junior leagues. Rookies, desperate to fit in, follow the veteran examples of how to treat people in their teens in junior hockey, presumably unlearning the rules set by their parents, and so it becomes a self-perpetuating problem.

Basically, it's a more civilized version of Lord of the Flies. There are various social theories that generally suggest women are the civilizing factor of humanity - and to some extent, that's probably true. But without women around to help men keep themselves in line, as most sports are men-only clubs that shun women as distractions (among other things), they start to think that some things are okay even when they're not.

The bottom line is, just because a guy is a good teammate and / or an athlete of great ability, that doesn't automatically make him a good person. It's a difference that most people realize and understand, and being a good person matters to a whole lot of humanity. However, in hockey, that doesn't seem to often be the case.

While it's totally understandable that teams want the best players they can get - despite any accompanying baggage - the fact is that the baggage matters, too. And that baggage doesn't seem to be properly addressed, probably because there's this ridiculous assumption that people are adults and they can make their own decisions. Well, if they're constantly making bad decisions, then others need to straighten them out, even if they're adults.

Sign who you want, and play who you want, but at least acknowledge the fact that the fans aren't stupid and admit that there are problems - and that they're actually being addressed. Pretending otherwise when there are police reports floating around just makes you look like a clueless ass. And, trust me, there are plenty of fans who will quit the sport for less than that.

After all, the financial bottom line is selling tickets to games. But when you alienate the fan base by acting stupid or treating them like they're stupid, you won't sell as many tickets. It's really rather sad that the NHL hasn't figured this whole connection between respecting fans and selling tickets thing yet, despite being around for almost 100 years.

And to address something Patrick Kane once said about coming back better to shut up the haters - the reason people hate you has nothing to do with how you play, but what kind of person you appear to be.

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