Great read bumped from the FanPosts. A chance to step back and actually think a little bit as we enter the final week of the regular season. - Travis
As Flyers fans, we can often be found discussing, obsessing over, and even joking about our team and its players. We love life when they're winning; we sulk when they struggle; and we argue about individual players' worth when we're supposed to be working during the day. We cheer for our favorites, we groan over players we don't want on the team, etc. The list goes on, and we add to it constantly.
I am certainly not exempt from this, as you well know. You've seen me at my finest when I'm saying "Oops Powe SURPRISE!" to anyone who will listen, or when I'm on here venting after a bad loss or two. Just like everyone else, I've alternated between praising players and tearing them down. In doing so, sometimes I've been fair and sometimes not. But this is true for all of us. It's part of our nature as fanatics.
One thing I've learned as a sports fan is that it's easy to sing when your team is winning, and it's easy to scapegoat players when your team is losing. But sometimes we go beyond scapegoating and take pot-shots at individuals, and these are uncalled for. I mention this because I had an experience at yesterday's game which really gave me pause and I wanted to share it with all of you.
During the second intermission, I met up with Don and we spoke about the game - what we liked, what we didn't, how soon we wanted the playoffs to start, etc. One topic of conversation was the struggling power play, and I jokingly introduced Jody Shelley into the conversation. "The Flyers need someone who just parks himself in front of the net on the power play," I said to Don. "I watched the third period and OT of the Capitals-Sabres game [on Saturday night]... the Caps were down twice, and both times they tied it because they had someone standing in front of the net on the power play. That's something the Flyers lack. When Jody Shelley comes back, they should just park him in front of the net and let pucks deflect off him. It can't hurt their chances."
I wasn't being serious, of course. Still, any joke one can make about Jody Shelley is an easy one. They're not necessarily fair to make, but we do it anyway.
After the game, my brother and I were walking across the Pattison Avenue side of the Wells Fargo Center. I was thinking my usual post-game thoughts, like "At least we got a point in the standings after trailing going into the 3rd," "I hate shootouts," "I sure hope we win on Tuesday and somehow clinch the division," etc. As we walked over the players' parking lot, I noticed a small child sitting on the hill next to it. I immediately thought, "No one's allowed down there. That must be one of the players' children." I then noticed a large man in a gray suit. His back was to me as he was monitoring the child on the hill. Again, I thought, "Oh, it's his kid... whoever he is. Maybe it's one of the injured Rangers or someone like that."
As if the man could hear my thoughts, he turned to the side so I could see who he was. It was Jody Shelley. The first thing I noticed was the side of his face where he had been hit by the puck. I didn't notice any bruising, but one eye was practically swollen shut. It almost looked like he was stuck doing a permanent wink. I also noticed that he had a pained expression on his face - like he had just watched the game and was upset that he wasn't able to help out. I'm not sure what exactly he could have done on the ice to help the Flyers win, but it's worth noting that the team is 2-3-3 since his injury. I called my brother's attention to Shelley's presence, and repeated my earlier joke: "When that guy comes back, he's gonna be our new power play specialist."
All that aside, I took my eyes off Shelley for a few moments, as I was walking and had to be mindful of where I was going. When I looked back down, I noticed that he, his wife, and their young son were all walking away. Mrs. Shelley was pushing a stroller; I don't know if it was for the walking child or if they had a toddler in it.
At that point, everything hit me, and I was touched by that vulnerable moment: Here was a man straddling the roles of a father, a husband, and a teammate. He was able to be there for his wife and child / children, but he wasn't able to be there for his team. It could not have been easy for him. And here I was, making jokes about the guy. Silly as it may sound, I felt guilty for doing so.
I'm telling this story because this experience woke me up to the ugliest side of sports fandom - the attacks that people make on certain players, their personal lives, and so on. As fans, we have every right to praise players who are doing well and criticize those who are not - so long as our criticisms are focused on their play on the field (or, in this case, the rink). All too often, however, we go beyond that and attack these guys on a personal level, and that's not fair.
I got flat-out angry when people were celebrating Jody Shelley's injury. I hated the inevitable "gay" jokes which followed Claude Giroux's moving into the Briere household. And I always bristle whenever people repeat the rumor about Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell's ex-wife. It's just not right to go out and say any of that stuff, because it has nothing to do with their being members of our team. These are all real people with real-life problems just like we have. They're trying to live one day at a time just like the rest of us - whatever that may mean for them. Maybe they're trying to raise families. Maybe they're trying to get their lives back together. Maybe everything is peachy keen. But how is that different from any of us? The only difference is that they are in the public eye as athletes. For some reason, this makes people feel justified in praising or putting them down by any means necessary.
Whenever I feel tempted to insult a player personally because he did a bad job on the ice, I hope I remember this image of the Shelley family walking together on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I hope I remember the pained expression on Jody Shelley's face, having just watched his team lose. And I hope this message proves valuable and memorable to all of us.
Let's Go Flyers.