October 21, 2010
The last couple days in the hockey world have revolved around the Rick Rypien(notes) ordeal, which led to much finger wagging about how hockey players are supposed to act like professionals. Rypien didn't live up to those standards.
But there are plenty of other cases where it's worth asking the question: When one idiot in the crowd singles a player out and goes over the line, is that supposed to be part of the job description?
Where does being a professional stop and being a human start?
When the NHL announced that players would once again be receiving fines and/or suspensions for spraying fans with water, I was crushed. That was always such a fun arrow to have in your quiver.
People love to say that taking the verbal abuse is part of being a professional athlete. And when it comes from the whole crowd in forms of boos and chants, it is.
But there has to be some level of understanding from the media that while professional athletes should avoid fan confrontation as much as possible, these people are still human.
What's the ratio of times a guy gets shouted down to times he reacts? 1-to-100? 1-to-500?
Players are constantly asked to take it -- you're a pro. You get paid to deal with that stuff. Rise above it.
Here's what happens: You play hockey from when you're a kid because it's fun, you get good at it, and suddenly you go "crap, they'll pay me how much to do this?"
You never sit down with an NHL owner and have him say "OK, we'd love to give you this contract for $4 million, but here are the conditions: You have to let the guy in section 111 call your wife a whore. Oh, and you can't react."
You get paid to do your job on the ice. And yes, part of your job description is implied, like the part about understanding that you never engage anyone who's not a part of the game. You're asked to be mature and respectful to fans and haters. And 98 percent of guys are able to live up to that.
When you're on the ice, the majority of the sounds from the crowd blend together. You're so tuned into the voices of your teammates and coach that you rarely hear anything else. But sometimes you just hear the wrong thing at the wrong time -- a voice above the din that cuts through the static and grates on your nerves.
As long as nobody gets touched, I figure you have to love that energy that's at the core of our game. We love that competitive fire, so let's not set the boundaries that "being a professional" means "acting like a business professional."
This is still the sports world, and competitors are bound to fire back on occasion. Part of me even thinks there had to be a few TSK-TSKING ex-player analysts that were kind of happy to see someone go through the force field and grab a fan, as wrong as it was.
A lot of folks would probably be just fine mounting their medium-sized horse about the "being a pro" thing, as the high one is not that necessary.
(Ironically, that's apparently what the guy chirped at Rypien -- "way to be a pro." You wanna see me act unprofessional buddy?)
Again, Rypien acted like a moron. You never physically engage a paying customer. But when you're a paying customer who's leaning over the boards or glass to abuse players, it's like talking in a movie theatre -- I know you paid to be here, but you didn't pay for the right to be a jackass.
When some classless buffoon can jam his face against the glass and call me worthless, you can't tell me I'm not allowed to give him his first shower in days.
You can boo. You can heckle. You can hate. Hating is one of the best parts of sports. I hate Jarkko Ruttu.
But if I pay for a ticket and lean into the tunnel to tell him that he's an embarrassment to the sport, I think he's entitled to spritz me with a water bottle and tell me to go back to my mom's basement and blog about it.