The Contrarian – Captain Deadpool Obvious

by Demetri Fragopoulos on September 11, 2016

It is obvious that professional athletes should have the freedom to make their own choices.

This week’s article is themed on the movie Deadpool. Like the main character, I might talk to the fourth wall occasionally.

It all starts with an article by ESPN’s Scott Burnside on the potential impact the injury bug may have on the World Cup of Hockey (WCH). (Hey ESPN, welcome back to the fourth professional sport in North America.)

We heard and read about all the players that dropped out. Burnside lists them all in his article, but he wonders if their commitment to the tournament is full out.  The reason for the doubt comes from comments by Doug Wilson on Tomas Hertl’s injury.

“After speaking with Tomas, we’re pleased that he has chosen to put his commitment to the Sharks and his teammates first,” said Wilson.

Burnside also adds in a clip by Hertl back in June, “I just want to be 100 percent ready for [the] season and I don’t want to go to World Cup at just 80 percent health.”

He extracts from this, that some of the other players who have backed out from participation in this event might not miss a single regular season NHL game (not televised by ESPN), and that is not right. As he describes it, “[Not] just any event, but a key moment for the NHL and its players as they navigate the uncertain waters of further Olympic participation and hope to build a vibrant, lucrative international schedule for years to come.”

Ooooh, if that does not stir up player emotions then they might need a visit from Francis.

There are going to be plenty of excellent players filling in for the no-shows, and Burnside mentions it. However, he uses it for contrast when writing, “[but] the pressure has increased on those players to deliver a compelling product on the ice to erase the initial perception that players don’t really care about the World Cup of Hockey. Or at the very least, care less than we thought they would.”

What does he think? That these players are pulling a Ferris Bueller? (I bet Hertl’s palms are a bit clammy.)

Should players that get selected to their national teams and not participate in the WCH be punished by missing real NHL games? That would motivate them to play at 80 percent (his eyes are looking right at you, Tomas Hertl). Maybe even when players feel lower than 50 percent.

(Self-promo – I wrote a piece about the NHL All-Star Game with a Ferris Bueller theme about how players were unduly penalized for opting out even though they were injured. You should check it out.)

The tone of his argument is that the WCH is much more important than anything else, and players chosen for their country’s team must play in it. (Do not get me started on the absurdity of Team North America and Team Europe as nationalized teams.)

Well, the simple answer to the perception problem is not to select players so early. If they did not set the rosters so far in advance then fewer players would be “opting” out because of injury.

Yet, there is a slight problem with that. To adjust a question originally posed by Burnside, why should the fans who are being asked to pay top dollar for tickets buy them so far in advance if they do not know who is playing for each team?

When it comes to the Olympics, fans do not worry about their nation’s roster. They will buy the tickets regardless. But for something like the WCOH, well, that is a bit tricky.

That is where nationalism and patriotism enter (we know what Ferris had to say about –isms) and Burnside does not miss his chance by quoting John Tortorella, “This is about your country. This is a platform for us, for our country. If you're not ready and you're not ready to give, I just don't know how you'll ever live that down as you go through this, and that's how we're presenting it. It's hockey, but this is about your country first and foremost.”

Burnside’s follow up was to write “Well said by a man who understands better than most the nature of national pride.”

Subsequently, Tortorella stated that he would sit any of his players if they decided to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead to not stand for the national anthem. (Do we get to listen to all the European anthems or do we not care because all the games are being played in North America?)

In the attempt to make a best-on-best tournament that has meaning, which I am not exactly sure what meaning it does have, we now have to worry about players being ostracized for their beliefs.

First it is the hint that players should be penalized for not playing, and then clearly supports the position that they will be punished if they exercise their personal rights and freedoms.

Fantasy owners worry about things like talent level, physical characteristics, contract signings, susceptibility to injuries, roster positions and potential linemates, which is more than enough to evaluate as it stands. We do not want to worry that a team or a league will penalize players for legally and peacefully acting on their beliefs.

We do not want any extra-curricular events and tournaments to detract from their professional seasons.

Yes, this is greedy of me and of all other fantasy league owners.

It does not matter to me if you are Colin Kaepernick or Tim Thomas, a personal right and freedom does not expire because you get paid for your services, and professional athletes get paid a great deal in comparison to average people. Some argue that vast amounts of money should buy the obedience and silence of the player.

I urge you to watch Fearless Foursome – A Football Life by NFL Films. Specifically, the part where Rosey Grier talks about his decision to retire after the Bobby Kennedy assassination in order to become an activist so he could make a difference. Deacon Jones looks at Grier, raises his hands to the sky and says “You could have made a difference and play football too.” All Grier could say in return was, “Yes, I didn’t know that”.

Freedoms do not evaporate because you play a sport or are part of a team. (Steve Simmons thought so.)

Whether the player is at the start, in their prime, near the end or retired from their career is irrelevant, their rights stay intact always. (Somehow it matters to Don Cherry in this Toronto Sun article.)

I do not want to worry about a player’s beliefs and how it could cost them playing time.

It does not escape me that my article will be published on the anniversary of one of the most horrific events of our lifetime, 9/11. Patriotism and nationalism will be at elevated levels. Maybe that was considered as part of the marketing plan for the WCH.

Fantasy owners of the various professional sports want to have our rosters filled with players that are going to play every game possible. We crave knowledge and stability (but it is no secret that we wish our competitors much instability and uncertainty).

Is that not also what the promoters of the WCH want? To get as many elite hockey players to play as many games so they can sell tickets, souvenirs and advertising in order to make more money than their competition?

It is so obvious, yet many go about achieving their goals in so many wrong ways.