On the surface, yes, this is hockey related. Really, though, it's not. Go with me here.
Okay, wait, first everybody should go check out this Puck Daddy post entitled "The most adorable youth hockey goal celebration ever?" 'Cause it just might be.
All right. Now, just like everybody else in the hockey world, I need to touch on the Rick Rypien issue. In case you missed it, a Vancouver Canucks player got tossed from a game in Minnesota recently and, on his way out, he turned to shove a fan who was clapping sarcastically. (The fan claims all he said was, "Way to be a professional" just before Rypien shoved him. Rypien had to be held back by teammates. The fan has said he's looking at legal options after the assault.
Rypien will be suspended. He has been, actually, and has already missed one game. The length of the suspension will be decided after he meets with league officials. Player-fan altercation is something that rarely happens. And the league doesn't want players messing with paid customers. And it's bad press.
And it was just stupid.
Today, however, I read this blog by Justin Bourne. Bourne agrees that this particular incident was ridiculous and stupid, and that Rypien needs to be punished for his actions. He also makes it clear that violently interacting with a customer is never acceptable.
He asks, however, where the line should be drawn. The sentiment seems to be "a fan can say whatever he or she wants to a player at any time. The players should just shrug it off. That's the nature of the beast. He knew what he was getting into when he wanted to be a hockey player." And to an extent that is definitely true. Taunting is part of sports. Entire fanbases frequently target a specific player and tell him that he sucks. At Aeros games, we make a point of letting the goalie know every time he's let a goal in. At Denver Bronco games, the fans all cheer "INCOMPLETE" derisively whenever the other team drops a ball. Once, at an ice hockey game at OU, my friends and I started counting the number of goals scored every time the Sooners netted one. (Had we known it would go all the way to twenty-one, we probably never would have started. Sorry, KU goalie)
When one man is cornered--say, he's in the penalty box for two minutes or more--and another man or woman begins hurling personal insults--not things like "You suck" or "You're an idiot" but slurs against his wife or his family, or references to a troubled drug problem that is in his recent past--is it hard to blame the guy for snapping and reacting? Again, physical aggression is still not warranted, but can you really expect any man to just sit there and take it in the face of that level of personal attack?
According to the comments following the post (Internet comments are a good place to go if you want to despair for humanity, by the way), yes. Yes, players deserve that kind of treatment from us, the fans, because A) we're paying lots of money to sit close to them, and B) they make a lot of money to entertain me. All this rhetoric about having a thick skin or it coming with the territory basically boils down to "I have a right to treat this man like trash because he is rich and I am paying his salary. And a lot of folks were outraged that Bourne would even suggest that players had a right to stand up for themselves in ANY situation.
This is where, to me, the problem shifts away from sports fans and athletes and becomes a Heart of Man type issue. Because, when you look around, we don't just treat athletes that way. We treat actors that way. We treat singers that way. We treat elected officials that way. Bosses treat employees that way. Employees treat interns that way. It is my right to be a monster to you, because our circumstances have put us in such a relationship that you have no right to fight back. I'm a good person, and you are just (a basketball player/the coffee intern/a preacher in some church half a country away).
How sick is this??? Since when is it ever okay to talk to another man or woman in this manner? Or in just any manner you want? Are you seriously paying $250 for the privilege of treating another human being like an animal for a couple of hours? Did you work your way up the corporate ladder so you could try to make your subordinates cry? So hey, that famous guy cheated on his wife. You now have the moral prerogative to call him worthless as a human being? Or look, that guy just got over a drug addiction that lost him his family. It'll be fun to wave it in front of his face, because he can't touch us! He's just another one of the animals in the zoo! Ha ha, can't touch me or you'll be the bad guy on every TV and every blog in North America!
I am stretching this a little. But only a little. I actually find it deeply convicting. We all get terribly wrapped up in our entertainments. We allow the lives of our heroes to become entertainments in themselves. Any good hero needs a good villain, so we set up villains for our little dramas. And we want to see them fall. Because they deserve it. Because they're the bad guys.
Look, Rick Rypien was wrong. Clearly. And he was pretty stupid, too. Tiger Woods was very wrong. LeBron was unbelievably self-centered and childish. The guy who always dismissed my comments as "intern drivel" was wrong. The pastor burning Korans in Florida is pretty disgraceful, too.
And if, in any moment, I ever thought myself to be better than any one of them, I have become the least of these.
Remember that people are people. Remember that hurts really hurt, no matter who they happen to. Many of us deserve what we have coming to us; many do not. And it's not mine to say which is which.
Remember something about casting stones. And live, whenever possible, as sons of peace.
I'm not sure if I've made my point here, or even if I had one to begin with. And I know none of my readers are probably very strong offenders in this instance. But, if anything else, I hope this window to the soul of the hockey world serves as a reminder that we are, every one of us, fallen beings in need of the grace of God. If there is any good in me, it is of Christ and not myself. But that's another blog for another time.