I'd like to start out today by saying I'm the last person in the world to censure someone for having a good time. I've been known to have a drink or five. Sometimes, I've bummed a drag off someone's smoke in the process. I have no right to tell anyone else not to do the same thing. But then again, I'm not a pro hockey player, with the hopes of thousands, maybe millions, of fans riding on my performance. I don't have hordes of little kids who idolize me and emulate my every move. Maybe it's not fair that pro hockey players have to live with that kind of scrutiny, but the fact is, they do.
I'm sure today's players aren't any different from the ones who played ten or twenty years ago. Habs have even been traded for their more extreme extracurricular activities in the past. But the internet has changed everything for today's players. What was once seen by a few dozen consenting adults inside a club, or preserved in private photo albums on actual paper, is now electronically recorded, shared and posted online for all the world to see. I don't know if the players don't know that, or if they do and just don't care.
But a bunch of the young Habs prospects who'd been travelling with the team as part of the taxi squad during the playoffs decided to go to Mexico after they were eliminated by the Flyers a couple of weeks ago. Of course, they had their cameras and phones with them and recorded the trip for posterity. The pictures ended up on various facebook accounts, and from there, were copied and reposted by fans all over the place. What was meant to be a fun trip to blow off some steam after a long season has become a series of images that are being dissected by people all over the world. Carey Price is in many of those pictures.
Now, I know Carey Price is a twenty-year-old guy who's dealt with a lot of pressure this year. He's a kid, cutting loose with a bunch of other kids, and really not doing anything terribly wrong in these pictures. But the problem is, he's not just an ordinary kid. He's willingly taken on a great deal of responsibility in accepting the job as the Canadiens' starting goalie. He's a hero to countless kids. He disappointed a lot of people when he didn't perform well in the playoffs and most fans accepted the excuses that he's young and was tired after two long seasons of hockey. It's a bit harder to do that when shots of him looking like a soft-bellied, hard-drinking smoker show up on the 'net. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the soft-spoken Price would be talking for quite a while to dispell the image of him those photos create.
Right now, Price still has the franchise saviour label attached to him, so he gets a lot of leeway with fans and management. But, to put things in perspective, imagine the flak if pictures of a doughy, fag-puffing Michael Ryder showed up online after the season he had? Right. You get the idea.
The internet isn't going away, obviously. And it has its benefits for fans who are able to glimpse their favourite players in candid moments uncensored by the team. But there's a fine line there for players between being accessible and being too real to be palatable. These young men are heroes because they can do things the rest of us can't. Their athletic abilities put them on a pedestal above the ordinary. When their private activities become so public, that pedestal is kicked away. It's a lot harder to marvel at a player's great drive to the net when you've seen pictures of him puking into a flowerpot on the internet.
To us adults, it means little in the long run. We might get angry because we love our team and we hate to see the kids responsible for winning games for it taking less than great physical care of themselves. But most of us are able to accept that the talent we admire on the ice is encapsulated in the bodies of silly, often immature 20-somethings who'll do silly, often immature things. Hell, most of us have done a lot worse ourselves. These days though, schools are doing a great job of teaching little kids that smoking sucks and drinking can be dangerous. What's a kid supposed to think when he googles his hero and sees him with a drink in one hand and a cigarette hanging from his lips?
So maybe the team needs to discuss the need to keep private time private with some of the players. Maybe the players need to think twice about where pictures end up before they pose for some of these shots, or post them online. Because once they're out there, they won't go away. Ever.