The big story this week – and it’s been quite an offseason for stories as it is – was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s newest goaltender, Dan Ellis, on Twitter. He made some honest, but perhaps ill-advised, commentary on his financial situation. As of this morning, he has shut down his Twitter account, citing that he doesn’t want to be a distraction for his team.
A few weeks ago, Paul Bissonnette from the Phoenix Coyotes had made some interesting commentary about the initial Ilya Kovalchuk-New Jersey Devils contract. He got some heat for it, and was advised by his agent to shut down his Twitter account. He has since come back to Twitter, by popular demand.
And people wonder why athletes are so bland in their commentary – particularly hockey players.
So what do we want from athletes? Since this is a hockey site, let’s narrow it down to hockey players. We complain when they have the public personality of dry toast (see: Sidney Crosby), but we don’t seem to like it when they’re just being themselves and voicing their honest opinions, either (see: Sean Avery). You can’t have it both ways, you know.
It’s perfectly fine to disagree with people. That’s not the issue – though, it can be when we collectively run individuals off. People should be allowed to have opinions and share them, and the people who disagree should be allowed to share their opinions as well. That’s what free speech is all about - people can say what they want, and no one has to agree with them. The problem seems to be that we require them to be all things to all people, and that’s simply not possible. They’re only human, as are we all.
So back to the title of this post: Can athletes have truly honest (and public) opinions? Or is it just better for them to hide behind the tired old sports clichés? A month or two ago, there was discussion about whether or not an openly gay athlete could be accepted in the NHL. What hope is there for that when we can’t even accept athletes as they are right now – period?
Yes, Ellis said some things that made him seem out-of-touch with the regular fan. Yes, he could have handled it better. But so could have everyone else. I understand the outrage, I really do. And he should’ve been called on it. But there was no need to keep going on about it three days later. In this day and age of 24-hour news filled with 15-second sound bites, that’s practically an eternity to keep going on about anything.
Obviously, he touched a nerve among fans, and that’s completely understandable considering the state of the US economy. But, in the grand scheme of things, what’s one more out-of-touch athlete? Aren’t we used to that by now? The NBA and NFL are rife with those kinds of guys. Yes, they seem to be few and far between in the NHL – thankfully – but we’ve all seen this before.
Would this have been an issue if there was a filter between Ellis and the fans? If this quote had come out in a newspaper article, would it have been as big an issue? Somehow, I doubt it. Oh, it would’ve been commented about, certainly. However, after a day or so, everyone would’ve moved on. But the fact that there was no filter, that the athlete said it himself to an open forum where fans could directly respond, that seemed to have been the blood in the water for this bashing frenzy.
The point I’m trying to make is this. If you want to get to know people, you have to take the good with the bad. It’s simply a fact of life. It’s hard enough being the average person on the street. Imagine trying to have to constantly to censor yourself in a public forum because you’re a public person.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what an athlete has to say. He just has to play. And frankly, if a guy wants to make an ass of himself publicly and it doesn’t physically hurt anybody, then so be it. He can knock himself out. So long as he can show up and play hockey, I don’t really care.
So in this all or nothing sort of world, which would you rather have? A guy shooting off his mouth, being honest but saying inappropriate things? Or a guy talking all the time but saying nothing at all? What do fans really want from the players that they watch, anyways?