Thursday, May 22, 2008

Say cheese

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.


NailaJ said...

As Tlusty well knows.

Robert L said...

Get over it J.T.

Lafleur smoked a pack a day and scored 50 goals in six straight seasons. It was widely known at the time thanks to Red Fisher, despite the lack of internet news speed.

As far as I can recall, the Canadiens and the country's youth did not go straight to hell.

While there are many cases in which athletes we percieve to be role models have let down their admiring public, perhaps the onus ought to be on the public's obsession with hero worshipping.

That is something that ought to be seen as more damaging to our youth than a cigarette or a beer.

But, you won't ever see a surgeon general's warning before an episode of Canadian Idol!

Carey Price has a contract with the Canadiens to stop pucks. That's enough pressure for a 20 year old to deal with. He's not being paid to be the role model for 30 million Canadian citizens.

Why do we hold up athletes to a level of public scrutiny that most of us would fail at.

That's a way bigger issue in my eyes.

J.T. said...

I'm not saying I disagree, Robert. I'm with you in that hero worship these days is a little over the top. But whatever we think of it, the fact remains that it's a real part of these athlete's lives...a part of which they're aware on some level when they sign those contracts to stop pucks or score goals. However much we'd like to say "boys will be boys," and focus solely on their performance on the ice, the very fact that we watch every game and read every stat obsessively negates our ability to do that. After a while, they're no longer machines who play a game we enjoy watching. They become "our" team, and "our" players.

As I took some pains to point out in this post, I, personally, have no problem with how these guys choose to spend their private time, as long as it's not something illegal that would damage their careers. However, I believe there are many who would be put off by pictures of the players they admire behaving in a less-than-exemplary way. Lafleur may have smoked like a chimney, but in a different era when smoking was de rigeur...and pictures of him, ciggie hanging out of his lips, weren't published in the Gazette.

Anyway, as I said, whatever the wish for a perfect society in which players are just's not going to happen. The players have to live in the real world, and that includes being judged for their off-ice behaviour.

I don't think I have anything to "get over," as I could care less if Carey Price smoked a pack a day if he brings a Cup to Montreal. My point was merely that he signed up for the scrutiny with the job and he should be more aware of that.

Jay in PA said...

I agree that members of the Habs organization undergo more scrutiny than other sports teams suffer. Carbo's famous one-finger salute to a journalist earned him a trade to St. Louis, which is usually about the 28th team you name when trying to come up with the full NHL from memory.

On the other hand, there's a sense of proportion to maintain. It's a common joke that, on any given Sunday, there's a member of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise on hand at the city jail to bail out as many players as are needed to complete the roster. The joke is overblown, but the situation in the NFL (and often the NCAA) is genuine and worrisome.

Some light partying and letting off steam in the off-season is hardly cause for notice, much less censure. We now live in an era when everyone is a cell phone camera snapshot away from momentary infamy on the internet, so we're bound to see more of this. If this is the worst of it, I'll be thrilled.

DD said...

Cut to the chase, tell me about the cactus juice and the dancing girls.