In an athletic contest, with no moral or social ramifications whatsoever, I engaged...even though I was just a fan, with zero power to affect the outcome.

Conflicts Are Unavoidable – Sometimes You Must Engage, But Not Like This

Cam Ward in goal. Conflicts are unavoidable. Sometimes you must engage.
Cam Ward in goal, before giving up 5 and winding up in his own net.(Photo by author)

# 55 on my, 99 Life Tips – A List is: Conflicts are unavoidable. Sometimes the most moral stance possible is to engage.

The first sentence ”Conflicts are unavoidable,” needs no proof. The second requires a book. Perhaps I will write it one day. I’m on my 3rd draft of this essay. I started with Friedrich Nietzsche, and Thrasymachus from Plato’s dialogues. And I went from there to invoke MLK, Jr, then Thoreau and Lincoln, and on to the great social and moral conflicts of the last century and a half. Those drafts outgrew a blog article.

For now, I will attempt to defend the second sentence with a personal anecdote about a night at a hockey game.

I’m a sports fan. Athletic contests involve both skill and luck. I’ve been a fan long enough to experience times when the best team hasn’t won. And other times, the team I’m pulling for just isn’t the best team. But I’ve only jumped in to engage one time as a fan, giving full throat to my righteous indignation…and it was a disaster. 

A promising start to a celebratory night

A few years ago, for my birthday, my girlfriend got us tickets to see the Carolina Hurricanes play the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Raleigh. This was a rare and special treat. 

We stayed at a swanky hotel not far from the arena, and took an Uber so we could have some adult beverages at the game.

She got excellent seats maybe three to four rows from the ice. I was decked out in my Hurricanes jersey, and I drained a couple of bourbon’s from the concession stand during warmups, excitedly waiting for the first period puck drop. 

Prior to the start, I noticed a lot of gold and black around us, (Pittsburgh’s team colors), and quite a few Malkin and Crosby jerseys. (Pittsburgh’s All-Star players). They had won last year’s Cup, so I was sure there were a lot of bandwagon Penguins fans who had come to watch their team. I was mildly annoyed, since this was a Hurricanes home game, but I thought the rival fans were about to suffer some serious disappointment. No worries.

It was not to be.

By the mid-way point of the game, the ‘Canes were behind 4-0. It could have been a lot worse. The ice was tilted towards whichever end held the Hurricanes goal. The puck and the action stayed in the Hurricanes zone, and four times wound up in the back of their net. On this night the home team was seriously outmatched.

I was dismayed. And I probably could have handled the loss if not for the sea of black and gold clad high-fives around us every time the Penguins notched another goal. The Pittsburgh fans were riotous. And then, they got rude…

The conflict appears, and rapidly escalates

Shortly after the start of the last period, with the outcome of the game clearly decided, the Penguins wanted to rub salt in the wound. They dumped the puck into the Hurricanes zone. The goal was on the end of the ice right in front of our seats, as it had been in the first period. 

On this particular play, one of the Pittsburgh players, skating in hard to control the puck away from the flat-footed Carolina defensemen, happened to clip the ‘Canes goalie with his skate, tripping him to the ice. No call from the referees, who let play continue, ignoring what I thought was an obvious tripping penalty. I was livid. And I yelled out my frustration. 

Somehow the Hurricanes cleared the puck out of harm’s way as their goalkeeper, Cam Ward, scrambled back to his goal crease, to defend his net.

On the very next play down the ice, one of Pittsburgh’s most notorious players, Patrick Hornqvist, barreled into Ward, knocking him backwards into his own net. The collision happened just as another Pittsburgh player let fly a wrist shot towards the net. Ward went flying ass over tea kettle, even knocking the goal off its moorings, but not before the puck had crossed the goal line, making the score 5-0. 

To me, this was an obvious case of goaltender interference. The goal should have been disallowed, and the Hurricanes should have gone on the power play with a man advantage. 

But no. Not only was there no penalty. The goal was allowed and the Pittsburgh fans began to mock and jeer and laugh at Ward and the pathetic, disheartened Hurricane players. They were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other, and pointing at the overhead scoreboard in obvious glee.

Excuse me while I make a fool of myself

I popped. This time when I stood to yell, I was screaming at all of Pittsburgh. I yelled profanities at the referees, at the players, and to my girlfriend’s horror, to the fans seated in front of and around us. I was a complete ass. But I was standing up for my team, by God!

Typically, a hockey team, when seeing one of its players physically maligned by an illegal or particularly aggressive hit, will defend their teammate and ”police” the action by fighting for him. Especially so, when it is their goalie.

Not on this night. Not these players. The Hurricanes skated around meekly with their tails tucked between their legs where their testosterone ought to have been. I’ve seen Olympic ice dancers with more fortitude.

I idiotically acted like I could make up for it, and defend the weak with my embarrassing tirade. It’s a small miracle that I didn’t start a fight myself, one that could have put me in the hospital. 

In an athletic contest, with no moral or social ramifications whatsoever, I engaged. I engaged even though I was just a fan, with zero power to affect the outcome. I was just there to watch and enjoy the experience with my girlfriend, regardless of the outcome. At least, I should have been there for that alone. To my everlasting shame, I let my emotions and allegiances dictate my behavior.

This story illustrates what my tip means. In reverse. 

1 thought on “Conflicts Are Unavoidable – Sometimes You Must Engage, But Not Like This”

  1. Pingback: 99 Life Tips – A List : Greg Proffit Writing

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top