Hockey Headlines

Friday, 25 November 2011

Insulting Or Just Stupid?

There was an interesting article that was sent to me via email that I want to share today. As much as it was interesting, I found the writing to be very ignorant and quite insulting in terms of the topic. You may recognize the character "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers movies to the left. His only athletic endeavor that we were privy to see was when he participated as a sumo wrestler - a stereotype that all heavier people have dealt with at some point in their lives. And while I'm not here to might light of people who are dealing with their own weight issues, the thought may have crossed a few minds that hockey teams would do much better with a sumo wrestler in net than they would with a skinny guy. After all, the sumo wrestler takes up more room, right? So wouldn't Fat Bastard be an excellent choice as a goaltender?

Todd Gallagher, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, penned a book entitled Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan and there was an excerpt of this book featured in the October 6, 2007 edition of WSJ. In the excerpt, Mr. Gallagher decides to tackle the question of "Could a morbidly obese goalie shut out an NHL team?". How he handles the question, however, leaves me feeling a little disgusted by his comedic style.

"Because of the geometry of the game, the potential for one mammoth individual to change hockey is staggering. Simply put, there is a goal that's 6 feet wide and 4 feet high, and a hockey puck that needs to go into it in order to score. Fill that net completely, and no goals can possibly be scored against your team. So why hasn't it happened yet?"
His second paragraph might be his best. He draws out the problem and identifies a solution, and then he appears to be ready to do the research on why this hasn't happened yet in the NHL. He makes a compelling case thus far, but it's the proof that will win this case.
"One answer is that professionalism and fair play prevent many sports teams from doing whatever it takes to win. This is also known as 'having no imagination.' Additionally, in hockey the worry of on-ice reprisal from bloodthirsty goons would weigh heavily on the mind of any player whose very existence violated the game's 'unwritten rules.' In other words, had Eddie Gaedel worn a St. Louis Blues uniform rather than one of the St. Louis Browns, his heartwarming story may have instead been a cautionary tale."
Hold on a second here. Why would a goaltender be subject to the "unwritten rules" of The Code? Goaltenders are very rarely bloodied on the ice, and there is absolutely nothing unprofessional or a case of poor sportsmanship by simply having a heavier player on the ice. All this paragraph does is bring into play a vast number of factors that would never affect a goaltender whatsoever. Someone just turned the corner onto "Stupid Street".
"Also, advertising money is a strong motivation for professional sports leagues to keep a sense of legitimacy to their made-up games. But considering that no one wants to advertise with the NHL to begin with, I started thinking there must be a simpler explanation. Maybe it was just against the real rules."
Why would having an obese goaltender have anything to do with advertising? When pairing those two paragraphs together, there is a complete and utter fallacy to the argument being made. The NHL has posted great revenue numbers since the lockout, and has attracted a large number of sponsors it once didn't have. Since this article appeared in 2007, are lies the only proof that Mr. Gallagher has?
"Looking for answers, I followed a path blazed by draft dodgers and drug-addicted football players and headed north to Canada. Actually, since it was the dead of winter, I just bought a five-dollar international phone card and called the NHL offices in Toronto to speak with Johanna Kytola. Johanna, not surprisingly, was appalled by the idea. However, after some prodding she was forced to concede that the NHL rulebook doesn't put any physical constraints on the size of players... which I suppose could have been surmised just by looking at Zedno Chara."
Insults to all those Americans opposed to the United States' stance on the war and the CFL aside, this paragraph comes off as complete ignorance. Forget the spelling mistake in Zdeno Chara's name by published writer (great research skills!), but I'm glad Miss Kytola was "appalled" by this jackass's question. And when it was handled professionally, Mr. Gallagher tried to present himself as the smart guy in knowing that Chara stands 6'9", but looks like an ass because he doesn't know how to spell Chara's first name. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
"I had checked Johanna into the boards, but then she dropped her gloves. There are, she said, nonnegotiable restrictions on the size of goalie pads, and no regulation goalie pads would even come close to covering the body of a man who makes John Goodman look svelte. In practical terms this means a mammoth net-minder would have to absorb quite a bit of punishment on his exposed body from hard rubber pucks hurtling toward him at upward of 100 miles per hour. To pull this off, a team would not only have to find a uniquely fat guy, they'd have to find a total masochist."
The first sentence is absolutely ridiculous. The John Goodman comment could be considered libel, but I'm not a lawyer. As for the larger man playing net, if he used his pads correctly, he could easily turn away pucks without having to be a "masochist". Otherwise, every single boxer that has ever lived is a masochist. Unless, of course, they are trained in the art of boxing. Y'know... kind of how goaltenders are taught how to stop the puck without killing themselves.
"Then Johanna threw a Tie Domi haymaker: 'A man of that size would have a very hard time passing a physical. If he did and it became a problem for the league, the issue would then go through the commissioner and governor's office until a solution was reached.'"
Once again, the professional person in the conversation frames this possibility in reality. There are reasons why athletes succeed, and the sacrifices they make to stay lean and strong are ones that some heavier person clearly has not yet mastered. Miss Kytola has all but ended this conversation because of the physical requirements needed to play net. When you hear stories of goaltenders losing ten pounds of weight after a long game, you know that goaltender is in tip-top shape in order to survive those sixty minutes while burning off that much mass. A heavy person wouldn't be able to do it.
"From Johanna's veiled threats it was clear that this idea had merit, so I decided to continue researching how to ruin pro hockey forever. And no, that doesn't mean seeing if I could get their Versus deal extended."
Another shining example of high-class journalism. Moving on....
"It made sense that a guy who can't get out of bed might have trouble passing a physical or possibly even making it to the physical, but would a failed physical be enough to bar him from being forklifted into action? To find a legal loophole big enough for our fat goalie to be greased up and shoved through wouldn't be easy, since the NHL has more lawyers than fans. I didn't have a team of lawyers on retainer to go head to head with the NHL's, but David needed only one attorney to win the right to fight Goliath. The stone in my sling was Gilbert Geilim, a lawyer in Los Angeles who thought we sort of had a case against the philistines in the league office: 'The NHL would eventually figure out a way to keep a man who is a health risk off the ice, but if they looked like they were making the criteria for a physical to exclude a certain segment of society, even the morbidly obese, you might luck out and get a judge to issue a temporary injunction.'"
I'm completely disregarding the insults towards the NHL at this point.

Let's make one thing clear: physicals are not meant to exclude portions of society from partaking in anything. They are a measurement of the physical body. The tests done in NHL physicals represent a sample size of real-life game action, and how a players reacts to those tests gives a team a very good idea of how he will perform on the ice. In other words, if you fail the physical, you don't make the team. Your success in the physical can make or break your NHL dream. In this case, a temporary injunction wouldn't even be considered because every single professional sport would then be under the microscope for giving physicals to players. That just isn't going to happen.
"For ostensible humanitarian reasons, I needed to determine whether an obese goalie could handle the physical demands of playing professional hockey. Jacob DiCesare, a doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told me, 'When people get into the weight range you're referring to—one thousand pounds and above—it is rarely because of body fat. People in that class of weight are nearly always retaining fluid somewhere in their body, often in the abdomen, although there have been cases where a majority of weight...' and that's when I tuned out."
Really, I only have one word: ASS. This would have been all the medical proof that Mr. Gallagher needed to report that "morbidly obese" people would not make good goaltenders. Instead, he "tuned out". ASS.
"Finally, he switched from medical mumbo jumbo and addressed the far more interesting aspect of fat men getting hit in the gut with a puck. 'Well, it would really hurt, especially because the padding wouldn't cover a lot of the body. At best you're looking at some severe bruising. Not to mention the incredible risk the morbidly obese would have just getting out on the ice. But theoretically if they had no cardiopulmonary issues or other health issues, once they were sat down in front of the net, and if they could deal with the pain, then sure, they'd do fine.'"
So if this was a fantasy-based world, a morbidly obese person could do just fine. Anyone here living in a fantasy world? No? Alright, moving on...
"With that ringing endorsement, it was time to see whether obese people might agree to be pelted with hockey pucks and circus peanuts. I spoke with a friend of mine who had packed on the pounds since high school—we'll just call him Mr. XL—and asked whether he'd be willing to gain enough weight to fill a net if an NHL contract were on the line. Since Tony... oops, Mr. XL... wasn't even aware that the NHL still existed, he was skeptical. I insisted that with some real commitment he could be bathing in gravy in no time."
This is Pulitzer material. For real. Keep reading.
"At all times there is a wealth of morbidly obese men in the world, all of whom are financially limited by their condition and have few ways of acquiring the Ho Hos and powdered doughnuts required for their survival. Undoubtedly at least one of them would be willing to take the physical abuse and mental anguish for the right kind of money. Millions of dollars can help a bruised ego and a broken sternum; that's what therapists and painkillers are for."
Let me know when this article is supposed to be funny. There are a vast number of people who have medical conditions that cause weight gain to be rather easy, even when they are eating healthy. I'm not about to say that all heavy people eat "Ho Hos and powdered doughnuts" because that's lazy and convenient. I find this line of thinking to be insulting and degrading. Whatever editor allowed this crap to go to print should fired.
"We were getting close. Now that the futzing around with feelings and rules was out of the way, the true test was almost at hand: actually putting a big fella in the net. My insurance doesn't cover obese-goalie-related death, so horror-movie director George Romero's special-effects school constructed a heavy foam fat suit to replicate the exact measurements of our mountain of a man. To test the limits of fat-goalie domination, they used the dimensions of the pear-shaped Robert Earl Hughes, one of the heaviest men in history at 1,069 pounds, who reportedly had a waistline of 122 inches, and then, to account for the carbo-loading regimen an NHL team would put this kind of goalie through, beefed him up a little more. (Romero's people declined my request to exhume and totally zombify Hughes, however.) This translated to an overall width of about 3.5 [edit: why do people use 1/2?] feet. Sitting him in front of a 6-foot goal would reduce the area available to score to 2.5 [my edit] feet, or about 15 inches on either side of our goalie. Add in our man's arms, legs, pads, blocking glove, and catching glove, and the goal would be reasonably full."
Wait... we have actual testing of a theory? Maybe I've been too hard on Mr. Gallagher. If his testing does prove useful, you read it here that I will fully apologize for my comments above.
"The only way to fully test this theory was to get an NHL team to shoot against the faux fatso. My esteemed editor, Jed Donahue, got in touch with a fellow Georgetown graduate who was doing nearly as well as he is: Ted Leonsis, billionaire owner of the Washington Capitals, whom the Sporting News once called one of the twenty most powerful people in sports. Leonsis, who made his fortune in the world of telecommunications and technology, is a bit of a visionary. And while his vision may not have originally included allowing the professional hockey team he owns to take slapshots at a guy in a fat suit, he saw the potential and gave the stunt the green light."
Using terms like "fatso" kills any credibility Mr. Gallagher has as a writer when it comes to describing his test subject. While Ted Leonsis may have green-lighted this experiment, I am almost certain that Mr. Gallagher didn't present his experiment to Mr. Leonsis with the same arrogance portrayed in his article.
"With a team of highly skilled shooters in place, we needed someone to get in the suit. I certainly wasn't going to do it (insert fake injury/ailment/note from my mom here), so I enlisted George Mason University goalie Trevor Butler. Once everything was set, I threw the suit in a rented white molester van and headed for D.C., the whole time glancing nervously in my rearview mirror, imagining how I'd explain what I was doing to an officer who thought he was pulling over the Beltway Sniper."
Can we add "coward" to the list of descriptions for Mr. Gallagher? Trevor Butler knows how to play net. Why not get someone who spends more time on his couch with his laptop than a guy who is trained to stop pucks? The variables in this experiment are already being skewed.
"After the monumental chore of getting Trevor in the suit and pads, we hit the ice—literally. To get him some level of comfort in the fat suit, I took him onto an unused rink adjacent to the one the Caps were playing on, and within seconds he fell flat on his fake fat stomach. Panic set in as we tried to pull him up, but finally a team of five men was able to drag him off the ice and get him on his feet again. Had this been an actual 1,000-pound man instead of an athletic goalie in a fat suit, the game would have been called on account of fatness."
I don't know if I'm disgusted or appalled with Mr. Gallagher's complete and utter lack of tact. Look, the guy was in a suit to make him resemble a morbidly obese guy. We gt that. To call the game on "account of fatness"? That's just a jackass comment.
"While Trevor prepared for his grand entrance, I checked in with the Caps. Their reactions were even less encouraging than Johanna's icy responses were. Most players wanted nothing to do with an elephantine goalie. Defenseman Ben Clymer was so ashamed of being associated with the tub that he tried to identify himself with a fake name (he used center Kris Beech's). Winger Dainius Zubrus put it bluntly: 'It would be embarrassing if there was a goalie that big.' Defenseman Steve Eminger confirmed my worst fears about how our big man would be received when he said opposing teams would simply try to run him over in the net. The Real Kris Beech had an even more depressing comment for our new star: 'You might spear him and see if chocolate came out.'"
If the NHL players in question actually said these things, I have zero respect for them. Instead of looking at this experiment objectively, they, like Mr. Gallagher, resort to mocking Trevor in his suit. If that had been a real person, would the mocking continue? I have my suspicions that it would.
"But if a half-ton wonder could bring the Stanley Cup to Washington, then it sounded like everyone would be as sweet as can be. Well, barely tolerant is probably a more accurate description, but it's a start. As Zubrus put it, 'If he was dominant it'd be fine. That's the goal, to win, right?' Beech agreed, but with a reservation: 'That'd be good as long as I didn't have to go to dinner with him.'"
Kris Beech is a class act, ain't he? So as long as the team was winning, a morbidly obese man would be tolerated. And if he wasn't winning? You get the idea.
"As I saw it, this was as close as we were going to get to support, so it was time to unveil the heavy artillery. Trevor took to the ice on the Capitals' official practice rink with as much grace as he could possibly muster. A full crowd was in attendance to watch their sporting heroes that day, and as Trevor waddled to the net, children laughed and pointed, adults covered their heads in shame, and the Capitals stared, jaws agape."
Yes, I get that a man of that size would certainly cause a reaction. Does seeing a man of that size on the street cause the same reaction?
"We got Trevor situated in front of the net, though it took a good five minutes of work, including tying his torso to the crossbar... probably a disturbing sight, given that very few people were clued into the fact that this was not an actual 1,000-pound man. Trevor's goalie crouch was itself unnerving: butt on the ice and legs splayed out in front of him—really the only way someone that large could be situated. There were certainly places to score around his head and shoulders, but he filled most of the net and made it difficult to see the goal line."
I guess the experiment proved that a morbidly obese man can cover the entire net as long as he sits on the ice and offers no lateral movement. How did the shooters fare?
"I watched in horror as the Caps began to shoot, but Trevor blocked every single one of their first eleven shots, including a glove save he may not have even been aware of that drew cheers from the crowd. After one particularly brutal slapshot that ripped off the fat suit's overalls, I checked on Trevor to see how he was doing. 'My knee hurts and I can't breathe.' Great, Trevor! Keep up the good work!"
Sounds like this experiment is great as long as the goaltender doesn't die. I have to say that the NHL players should be able to hit the openings behind Butler, but perhaps they couldn't look away from the man in the suit protecting the entire net.
"As our session progressed, the Caps went through a number of drills and shot from various angles. They began methodically testing the fattie's limited ability to move, trying breakaways, two on ones, and one-timers. Caps winger Matt Bradley seemed bothered as a particularly good wrister was easily stopped, while Trevor kept complaining about his inability to lift his arms or breathe. This led me to believe that real science was occurring, because it didn't seem like anyone was having fun."
Making jokes about the size of the individual is starting to wear thin. The "inability to lift his arms or breathe" is something that would most likely happen if a man of that size actually took the ice. And that has to make one concerned about the physical stress on the body from which someone of that size suffers.
"From our practice session some easy conclusions could be drawn. Breakaways, in particular, were death for Trevor. An NHL player will score every time from close in on a goalie who can't move unless the goalie is large enough to literally cover the entire net. Angles and wraparounds were also extremely problematic since Trevor could not move to close the open gaps. But when the shots were coming from straight on in five-on-five game situations, Trevor pretty much shut them down."
In other words, a morbidly obese individual as an NHL goaltender is pretty much useless for anything more than a slapshot. As for the goalie himself, what did Trevor Butler think?
"He said that in a real game a portly net-minder wouldn't stand a chance. 'You're kind of a sitting duck in net like that. And if that was my skin instead of padding I would be in the emergency room or dead right now.' Pussy."
The last word aside, Butler pretty much spells it out: you have to be athletic to be an athlete, especially one at the NHL level.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't so easily dismiss the Capitals' harsh assessments just by pretending to be tough. Their scouting report on my new superstar showed there were indeed some on-ice problems. Ben Clymer's review was less than glowing: 'The hardest part [to score on] was through his body, 'cause he's pretty fat. The easiest parts were pretty much anywhere where he wasn't, because he wasn't moving a bit.'"
If your opponents are saying you're easy to score on, you're probably not going to make it as an NHL goaltender. NHL goalies are the best of the best when it comes to stopping pucks. You don't stop pucks, you don't have a job.
"In the end, this is a complicated issue but one with a clear answer. There is no chance the NHL would allow a contract to be signed with such an obvious health risk, and though the court case might provide an opening, it wouldn't be a big one given these health concerns. It is also highly unlikely that any team would allow such an embarrassment to the game to take the ice for them."
This is the first paragraph where I fully agree with Mr. Gallagher, and the first paragraph of the article that actually makes him sound intelligent and articulate. Well done, Mr. Gallagher.
"In addition, not just any fat man would do the trick, as Matt Bradley explained. 'If you add maybe three hundred more pounds to that guy, he might be okay. If someone's willing to gain fifteen hundred pounds to go in net, there might be a job for him somewhere.' While there have been 1,500-pound men, none have been proportionally built in a way that would fill a hockey goal. In fact, there probably isn't a man in the history of the entire world fat enough to be effective in an NHL game."
If you can cover 24 square feet when you stand up, you're not really built for movement. NHL goaltenders have to have great mobility - the quickest are normally the best goaltenders. Mr. Gallagher just confirmed what we all know: great goaltenders are most often great athletes.
"That being said, if there was a team that was more concerned with winning than with their reputation, and if they could find a genetic marvel, a man pushing 2,000 pounds who's fatter than anyone the world has ever seen, who could survive making it onto the ice and withstand the pain of frozen hockey pucks being fired off his exposed body, and if that team could then win a legal battle against the NHL, and if the players didn't go on strike over the matter or beat the rotund goalie to death on the ice, that historically obese man could be a cost-efficient and effective goaltender. But what are the chances of that wondrous hog existing, and events unfolding in such a way? Pretty slim."
Did you see the juxtaposition at the end there with the "pretty slim"? Genius. It completely makes up for the "wondrous hog" comment one line earlier. Incredible writing skills on display here.

Look, there's simply no denying that NHL goaltenders are highly-skilled athletes. While the premise of having a large man guard the twine seems like it would be smarter, the physics of the game show that a quicker individual will certainly be better than an immobile one.

The fact that The Wall Street Journal published this should cause concern for the standards print media are setting. By publishing this, they are condoning, and possibly encouraging, the public mockery of obese individuals.

Print media is different than the spoken word in that messages get construed in print. The quality of this article could have been greatly increased had Mr. Gallagher simply ran this experiment in the name of science. Instead, we get this excerpt of crap from his book.

If you're looking for intelligent writing by Mr. Gallagher, it'll be slim pickings for you in this book. As for finding any class from The Wall Street Journal in allowing this sort of garbage to be printed? Fat chance on that one.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

CalCroteaus said...

David Alan Grier already did it....and it's hilarious!

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=video&cd=4&ved=0CEQQtwIwAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.comedycentral.com%2Fvideos%2Findex.jhtml%3Ftitle%3Dblack-ice%26videoId%3D210461&ctbm=vid&ei=lGvUTou8EYeuiAKXuayyDg&usg=AFQjCNF9kn95qik-XFBxJL1teAVq0K5_gQ&sig2=yoLIIpctLZB_3ReqGlWT7A