— 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.
Well said Mister.
Great piece. I’ve long been of the opinion that fan voting is the wrong way to select all-stars. Popular players yes, but not necessarily those with the best skills. The media who observe the sport for a living should be the ones to select the players. As used to be the case.
I’m not sure that fan voting is necessarily a bad idea either. Fan voting also got Jaromir Jagr to the all-star game, even though he’s tied for 64th in points and 49th in goals this season. But Jagr is unquestionably a fan favourite and no one will argue he shouldn’t be there.
Then call it Fan Favourite game, not all-star game!
What’s the difference? Isn’t “star” defined mainly by popularity?
Fan voting has been an issue since before the hanging chad ballots for the Major League Baseball All-Star game. Ballots were distributed by ushers or others to fans and inevitably the system favored big market teams or well organized media driven votes to the detriment of really good players in small markets. Social media has twisted fan voting inside out.
The fan voting is done in such a way that the wrong players can get voted in. Each fan should only have 1 vote and fan voting should be combined with selecting done by the people who cover the game, to pick the all-stars.
Great story, and I know your heart is in the right place on this one, but your end conclusion won’t work out.
Fan voting worked when it was a little bit more difficult. I can remember the days when you have to get to a story, get a voting card (I think it was Gillette sponsoring) and then drop the card into a designated location. Yes, you could in theory get a bunch of cards and try to fill them out to tip the voting, but the amount of work versus the return was kinda low.
Technology of course has fixed the problem – and the jokers (nice term) on sites like 4chan love nothing better than to do something “for the LOLz”. What you get is a million hacker wanna be kiddies with plenty of time and means to do what they want, all easily herded into doing something that ends up being very stupid. Twitter, facebook, and the like only add fuel to the fire, and if everyone gets onside with something, you get a viral boom that is beyond anything expected.
Companies / organizations holding fan votes online are just not prepared for it. They don’t realize that they are not engaging the public, they are just engaging in a sort of online war with people who are way better armed and have way more resources than they can defend against.
The problem here is that the blogger who started it all isn’t wrong – at the time it was a funny comment and nothing more. But when the trolls and jokers online got onto it, it took a life of it’s own and the results are the results.
Shame on the NHL for trying to bury it. Shame on the NHL for having an open fan vote that could be so easily abused. They did it to themselves, and ultimately they should shoulder the blame for it.
I blame the NHL and “journalists”. This situation wouldn’t have started if the “Hockey Insiders” did not confirm the MTL/PHX trade as collusion. A documentary should be made about this fiasco.
Damn journalists finding out things and telling people about them. They’re a menace to society.
No, they justified the deal rather than questioning it merits.
Yeah, all those journalists refusing to question this deal.
There are definitely two sides to a story. You are so right ! People laughed at his nomination and voted just to make a point . People are against goons but are the first to rise when a fight breaks out…And then to top it all off ,he gets the player of the week award from the NHL !
I also agree with your stand on the bully gratification underlying with Scott s nomination. But clearly with the concussion issues, the trials and the money involved, the professional sports in general are in between eras and it looks like in a few years we will be talking about these gorillas as a thing of the past .
One must keep in mind though that this is a looong process involving all level of development hockey. You tend to think that if those guys made it to the NHL they are way more skilled than any of us can dream of but not necessarily. They were made to be goons, ordered like we order a pizza and seen as a Robin Hood who will fight and protect the weak and small players. This has to be a process of the past in the minor leagues also.
As for the all-star player selection,i think the only way to go is to still have one player per team and then complete the rosters with the best of the trade that have not been chosen. But since this is a showcase one has to choose the P.K.s of the league first. Guys you know who will put up a show. No all big stars are at ease with being under the spotlights deliberately au contraire.
Have to admit that Nashville has done a good job promoting the game and the show aspect surrounding it. Still the all-star game itself needs to be improved but without taking away the essence of the sport if possible. I am not certain that it has it s place anymore though or at least a place on TV. One needs to remember that this basically is an office party and not all of those get to be interesting at least until very late in the evening…
Really nice writing, Steve. Definitely my favourite Fagstein blog piece in a little while. I hadn’t looked at as a bullying thing, but that makes for a good analogy. Great work.