This weekend our local minor league hockey team, the Memphis RiverKings, lost. Twice.
Iâ€™m still smarting. Upset like I was on the ice. Or that someone owes me a win. Thatâ€™s what fans do. We cheer when the team does great, and pout when they donâ€™t. It doesnâ€™t matter that these were the first two games of the season, and we still have a very long way to go. All that matters is that we lost.
Now, this may start to sound very touchy-feely for a hockey fan. But don't worry, I promise I won't get too sensitive or offer anyone a hug.
Hockey players have it rough. All professional athletes do. Except maybe professional dodge ball players. (Iâ€™m still not convinced anyone is watching that.) But professional athletes have to do their job in front of everyone. And they hope everyone is watching. Can you imagine? I canâ€™t type if just one person is looking over my shoulder. I canâ€™t imagine performing in front of hundreds or thousands. But for 64 games this season, our RiverKings will skate hoping that weâ€™re all looking. Do they hope for all the criticism that comes with that? I hope theyâ€™re not all sadists, but I guess itâ€™s possible.
I know that there are people who say that they donâ€™t have real jobs. They get paid to play a game. And itâ€™s true. But theyâ€™ve earned that right. If everyone played hockey that well, we wouldnâ€™t need the NHL. But theyâ€™re stars. Theyâ€™re incredible athletes, with amazing talents. And Iâ€™m not just saying this because Iâ€™m no good at it. I havenâ€™t played hockey since the 5th grade, and even then, I was bad. (My mother cringes about that time in my life, if anyone asks. But thatâ€™s another story.)
These guys get paid to play because they deserve it. And they have to do it in front of hundreds of spectators looking for them to mess up, or score the game winning goal. Sometimes we fans are dying to see a hat trick, or the save of the year. Sometimes weâ€™re just praying no one falls down. The point is, as fans, weâ€™ve come to count on something from these men. We pay for our tickets, and then we expect a good game. And we can be remarkably harsh when we donâ€™t get it. I know that as professional athletes they live in the public eye, and should anticipate this kind of scrutiny. But at the same time, just because weâ€™re a ticket holder, that doesnâ€™t give us the right to critique the players like theyâ€™re our personal whipping boys. Theyâ€™re grown men with families and responsibilities like the rest of us.