Opinion Column

Criticize the hit, not the character

Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

Lacombe Generals forward Kyle Sheen sits along the boards during a stoppage in play following a collision during Game 1 of the Chinook Hockey League series against the Stony Plain Eagles.
(Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

Lacombe Generals forward Kyle Sheen sits along the boards during a stoppage in play following a collision during Game 1 of the Chinook Hockey League series against the Stony Plain Eagles. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

There are fewer scarier moments in sports than when a player goes down and doesn’t move.

It doesn’t matter what sport — save, perhaps, boxing — or what team you cheer for. No one ever likes to see a player get seriously injured. At the end of the day, the athlete is a person with a family and a life outside of sports.

This holds especially true for the players in the Chinook Hockey League and an incident last Friday where “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth was hit almost simultaneously as he scored a goal. I was standing behind the play at the opposite end of the rink when it happened. I saw every last second, from Kyle Sheen lining him up, to Smyth hitting the ice.

We can debate the hit, its timing, whether it was good or bad, or involved a “flying elbow.” We could call it a cheap shot or say Smyth should know better than to cut through the middle and admire his shot. It wouldn’t be hockey if, as fans, we didn’t over analyze something like this down to every fraction of a second, and come out with our own opinions. I certainly have mine, so I think it’s fair game.

What isn’t okay, however, is going out of one’s way to drag a player through the mud and publicly crucify him based on a single play, a single video clip, and the word of one team.

Sports are emotional. I get that. I get being upset, and concerned that an athlete, especially an athlete of Smyth’s calibre, is hurt. I get that it’s the trendy thing to put down physicality — “violence” to some — in hockey and shame fighting.

I don’t get using those reasons as justification for attacking a player personally.

For as much as Sheen was slammed on social media and by media outlets that reported on the hit from the statement released by Stony Plain as a “vicious flying elbow,” people made some pretty vicious verbal and personal attacks on Sheen themselves. I saw more than one person going out of their way to share his Facebook page, and one who said he’d messaged him to tell him exactly what a disgrace and coward he was.

Others actually thought he should be criminally charged for what was a fast, hockey incident. Better yet, they thought the Generals should not only kick him off the team, but forfeit the series. One messaged me saying unless the Lacombe Generals had Sheen’s name on a list to kill, comments from them on the incident (for the sake of balanced, unbiased reporting) weren’t important.

The sad thing is I’m not surprised those comments were made. I am surprised at how many people were making the same terrible remarks and how in a few cases led to not only the assassination of Sheen’s character and human decency, but tearing down of the City of Lacombe, and other sports teams here.

Does the hit deserve discussion and criticism? Absolutely, and far be it from me to discourage debate on any hockey or sports matter. Does Sheen deserve personal, negative attacks because of a single play that never would’ve received the coverage it did had the player he hit not been Ryan Smyth? I don’t think so.

The anonymity that social media can empower trolls with is a growing problem for many athletes. While social media gives us a forum to voice our opinions and debate on what is essentially an online loudspeaker, it doesn’t give anyone the right to personally target a player.

I’m sure Sheen can handle stupid comments and criticism, but calling him nothing but a beer league goon that doesn’t deserve to share the ice with Smyth (I’m looking at you, Ken Campbell) isn’t fair to him in the slightest.

Not only is the Chinook Hockey League the highest level of non-professional hockey in the country, but it’s a league where Sheen has found success. No, it isn’t the NHL, but for many players, it’s as good as it gets. Not everyone can make the show, after all.

That doesn’t mean that when a former NHLer does join the league that Sheen should spend the game kissing their skates and thanking the maker he’s been graced by their presence and hockey greatness.

He’s a competitor, and a physical player at that. It was a questionable hit. It shouldn’t define his career, or impact whether he deserves to continue to play a game he loves.

Sure, hits like that don’t belong in hockey, but neither does that kind of backlash.


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