— NHL (@NHL) February 1, 2016
January was quite the month for John Scott, a hockey player who started out as the butt of a joke and ended up as the National Hockey League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
There’s been no shortage of think pieces about Scott, especially over the past week. Most have decided to blame the NHL’s senior management for mishandling the issue, for holding a fan vote, for having Scott be eligible, for trying to convince him not to go and then for mysteriously engineering a trade that conveniently sent him to an American Hockey League team 5,000 kilometres away. (The league denies trying to prevent him from coming, but Scott himself said they tried to shame him out of it by invoking his kids.)
There’s no doubt the league mishandled the situation after Scott was chosen, and fumbled its way through trying to make good on it. But the NHL didn’t pick Scott for the all-star game. The NHL didn’t decide that humiliating a journeyman NHL player would be hilarious without caring what it would do to that guy. The fans did that.
So why aren’t they getting the blame from anyone (besides Don Cherry)?
I followed the John Scott story closely over the past little while, partly because he’s now in the Montreal Canadiens organization, but also because I related to him.
I was bullied in high school, pretty badly. There might have been one or two people in my high school who got it worse than me, but on the social hierarchy I was pretty near the bottom. I won’t bore you with details, but the torment was pretty standard for high schools in the 90s.
It was in my last year or two of high school, when during the lunch period there was some sort of vote on something. I don’t remember what it was, what the prize was, but I remember my surprise when one of my fellow students — one of the many who regularly bullied me — called out my name.
I didn’t get it. I hadn’t suddenly become popular. Why did these people vote for me? Why were they happy I won?
Then there was that time that a pack of girls brought me into an AV room and flashed me. (Well, not really, they were lightning fast and didn’t lift their shirts all the way, so I never saw anything.) What the hell was that about?
Had I become so uncool that I was now really popular? Like a reversal of coolness polarity?
No, I was still the butt of a joke. Things got better as people matured (including me), but my classmates didn’t look up to me, they were still looking down, and laughing.
I thought of that while following the John Scott story. He experienced something similar, but on a much larger and more public scale.
NHL fans decided to vote him in as a joke (and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s how this started), but Scott refused to bow out and instead approached the event with an enthusiasm that brought many more fans to his side. The love-in only got stronger through the events, culminating in him being hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders after scoring twice in the All-Star Game.
But that doesn’t shift responsibility for the fan vote that got him there. That doesn’t change the fact that John Scott was the victim of bullying on a massive scale.
Greg Wyshynski, the Puck Daddy blogger who first blurted out Scott’s name during a podcast, which sparked the campaign to vote for Scott, accepted some responsibility for starting it all. But while he spent a few seconds mocking Scott, he didn’t orchestrate the campaign to flood NHL all-star voting with votes for him. The Internet trolls on Reddit and elsewhere did that.
They need to accept responsibility for what they did, and not take the storybook ending as proof that the ends justified the means. They’re the villains of this story that Scott vanquished, not the fairy godmothers that gave him a happy ending.
The NHL has some responsibility here, too, of course. The idea of voting in someone as a joke has been around for years, since Rory Fitzpatrick almost got selected in 2007. And the selection of Zemgus Girgensons, while for positive reasons (Latvia wanted an all-star, and its citizens made it happen), should have reinforced the idea that fan voting can have unexpected consequences. And if it’s true that the league tried to pressure Scott or even forced the trade that may have banished him to the AHL, it needs to apologize for that.
And maybe there should be changes to the all-star selection process. Not a preselected list of qualified candidates, but some minimum qualifications, such as a minimum of NHL games played. The league might also consider measures to encourage more people like Scott, role players who never lead the league in scoring but are beloved by fans and teammates alike, to join the all-star festivities.
But the biggest change I’d like to see is in fans’ mentality. You’ve proven you have the power to manipulate the results of an online vote. Now maybe you’ll give it some more thought before making some poor hard-working guy you’ve never met the butt of your stupid joke.
In the meantime, congratulations John Scott. I hope you had as much fun participating as we did watching it. And I hope we’ll get to see you scoring some goals in Montreal soon.