I came around on John Scott.
I certainly wasn’t a fan when the Sharks signed him as a free agent in 2014, preferring then as I do now that the Sharks stay away from signing enforcers. But after his appearance on “Holiday Sweater” and learning of his self-owning fashion sense, it was hard not to like him by the time his tenure in San Jose ended, even if I wasn’t a fan of the pugilism.
It became even harder after his crowd-pleasing turn as the All-Star game’s MVP last year. After all of the NHL’s efforts to keep him out of the game, it was awesome to see him shine in the spotlight, and truly own the moment.
So imagine my surprise when the ex-Sharks enforcer had harsh words for Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban in an E:60 profile that aired yesterday.
“I don’t like him,” Scott said in the piece. “I think, on the ice, he’s a piece of garbage. [He’s] perceived as like a hot shot.”
John Scott on P.K. Subban:— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) May 29, 2017
"I don't like him. I think, on the ice, he’s a piece of a garbage. [He’s] perceived as like a hot shot…" pic.twitter.com/2sUxYxMRMC
The hypocrisy here is head-spinning.
For one, it sounds like Scott is embracing hockey’s toxic culture of conformity, citing similar themes to the ones used as reasoning by some media and the league office to justify keeping him out of the All-Star game.
“This isn’t a game for you, John,” NHL executives told Scott, according to his piece in the Players’ Tribune last year. Here, Scott’s telling Subban “this isn’t the game for you.”
As I wrote last week, false narratives have followed Subban throughout his career, and he’s consistently proven them wrong. Much of it is undoubtedly driven by race, as Joe Rexrode of The Tennessean noted that the defenseman is a “black man in a very white world” in the NHL, and some is centered on his desire to stand out in a sport that values players who fit in (which often intersects with the latter).
But just as the criticism coming from Scott was, so much of it is hypocritical.
Take, for instance, NBC analyst Mike Millbury calling Subban a “clown” for staying loose in warm-ups, and for Predators head coach Peter Laviolette to “give him a rap on the head.” The irony of such a criticism, coming from an analyst who once climbed the boards and attacked a fan, is rich.
The same can be said for Scott, a player suspended multiple times for his actions on the ice, to call another player a “piece of garbage.” Not to mention the cognitive dissonance needed of others in and around the sport to laud Brent Burns’ freewheeling style on the ice and his colorful personality off of it, and shun Subban for the same.
This inherent dishonesty has unfortunately become par for the course for players who deviate from the norm. When a player’s not white, born outside of North America (or just Canada, in some cases), or different in a noticeable way, hockey’s unwritten rules are harshly enforced.
At best, that’s hypocrisy, and at worst, it’s something far more problematic, which makes it so dispiriting to hear Scott sound like his own critics from last January.
Fortunately, many seem to recognize that Subban is not a player worth shunning, but one worth showcasing. After all, Scott’s comments came in an ESPN program.
The worldwide leader, of course, has faced plenty of recent criticism from hockey fans for its lack of coverage, and its decision to let go of most of its hockey writers in the latest string of layoffs. That E:60, the company’s equivalent to 60 Minutes, profiled Subban, and tasked one of its best reporters in Jeremy Schaap with doing so, speaks volumes.
So does the fact that the league’s own network tasked Subban with interviewing his Predators teammates at yesterday’s Stanley Cup Final media day. For a league that’s lacked, and struggled to market stars, Subban is uniquely appealing as an elite player that doesn’t look or sound like all of his peers.
The league, whether begrudgingly or willingly, ultimately recognized and showcased Scott’s unique story in last year’s All-Star game. Scott embraced it, too, in part because many of his peers embraced him before league executives came around.
Why, then, can’t Scott, his peers, and other traditionalists in the sport do the same for P.K. Subban?