We will begin this post today with a sports reference. And if you do not follow sports, that is okay; as is so often the case, within the pages of both this blog and life, there is more to the story.
This weekend, both the National Football League and the National Hockey League will hold their respective All-Star competitions. And please note, dear reader, the difference between the words “respective” and “respectable”; of the four major professional sports in North America, these two showcases by far bear the least resemblance to bona-fide competition. For all of that, though, I would still think it an honor to be voted onto an All-Star roster, carrying as it does the sense of recognition for a job well done at a sport’s highest level.
This year, though, there is an interesting story making the rounds in the days leading up to the NHL competition. The story surrounds a player by the name of John Scott. If you have never heard of him before, that is completely understandable. The guy’s job, throughout his NHL career – more on that in a moment – can be summed up in one word – “enforcer”. (The word “goon” may come to mind for many of you; I prefer to use the word “enforcer” here…more on that in a moment as well.)
Now, any of you who have been witness to an NHL all-star game realize that the concept of defense is somewhere between nonexistent and blasphemy for the day; scores over the past couple of decades have looked more like something from the NFL. The term “check”, for this game at least, is pretty much limited to the compensation a player receives for showing up. And if there is a minimum of hitting on the ice, then there is certainly no role for a one-dimensional enforcer, whose sole responsibility is to protect his teammates from an opponent taking liberties with their hits.
This was clearly not a game designed to showcase a player like John Scott. And yet, along the way, fans began voting for him to take the ice this weekend. Now, I am not going to say that this began with any sort of honorable intent; in fact, the seeds for this were most likely planted in the manure of mockery. And now, if you would be so kind, your humble correspondent would like to digress for a moment. Because this struck a very raw nerve in me.
Those of you who have met me over the years following my time in school may not realize this, but my personality was quite different back then…hopelessly geeky (much more so than now, I dare say); behind the curve physically, biologically, and emotionally; and with no self-confidence whatsoever. In short, I was prime bait for bullies. For any number of reasons – both related to school and home life – the idea of any sort of social activity with the opposite sex was completely off the board throughout high school. And there were those back then who seized upon this at every opportunity. Most relevant to this story: There were rumors – apparently not intended for my ears, but word does get out in school – that there were some classmates who were hoping to get me elected to the court of our junior prom. And, trust me, this was not intended as respect in any way, shape or form. Fortunately, this never came to pass; whether any given classmate might not have given a damn about my dignity but cared about that of the prom, or vice versa, or both…in any event, I was mercifully spared being put into a humiliating situation where, however I might have handled it, I would not have looked good at all.
Thus it was that I felt an odd kinship with John Scott as I read his story. As the movement to make him an All-Star grew, he – fully well understanding that he was not in fact an All-Star type of player – appealed to the fans to stop. When that did not work, he slowly began to appreciate and embrace what was happening…not with any sense of arrogance or entitlement whatsoever, but rather as a guy who paid his dues to get where he was to this point, whatever point that might be. In short, he handled his situation a thousand times more gracefully than I would have handled mine.
Unfortunately, the NHL was paying very close attention to what was happening, and in a very ham-fisted way. First, a league representative contacted him, trying to get him to gracefully step aside. In John’s own words:
“So when someone from the NHL calls me and says, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”
… That’s when they lost me.
That was it, right there. That was the moment.
Because, while I may not deserve to be an NHL All-Star, I know I deserve to be the judge of what my kids will — and won’t — be proud of me for.”
And when that call served to energize rather than dissuade him, things went to the next level. In a very transparent move, Scott was suddenly traded from Arizona to Montreal; the Canadiens then immediately demoted him to their top minor-league club in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Now, not only was he not playing in the division that he would have been representing had he remained in Arizona; with him out of the league, the case could be made that he was not eligible for the All-Star game, period. Fortunately, the league relented – and he will take the ice as the captain of the Pacific Division – an honor bestowed upon the top vote-getter in each division.
Beyond all of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, though, there is yet another facet to the man that appeals to me – and here is why I prefer to use the term “enforcer” rather than “goon”, although there is no question as to some of the hits he has unloaded over the course of his career. First, he did not grow up with the idea of being an enforcer; his boyhood idol was Ray Bourque…hardly the sort of player who would inspire a kid to be a muscle man some day. It was not until he reached the AHL – the top minor league below the NHL – that Scott found himself thrust into that role. Furthermore…here is a guy with a bona-fide engineering degree from Michigan Tech. While enduring the long, cold bus rides inherent to college hockey, he would be doing his engineering homework while his teammates amused themselves in more stereotypical fashion. Hardly the stereotype of the big dumb goon, I dare say.
So, yeah. Whatever was behind all of this originally, I would hope that there might have been a goodly number of votes for John Scott as an Everyman, delivered not in mockery but in kinship. Whatever the motivation for the vote, though, he will be out there with that “C” on his sweater. And now I have two guys (local boy Joe Pavelski being the other) on the Pacific team to cheer for tomorrow.
And cheer I will.