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The Limelight: Where Privacy Goes to Die

Pierre Dorion has had a busy off-season to say the least. The latest extension of Mathieu Joseph for four years at a cap hit of slightly less than what Nick Paul re-upped for in Tampa Bay is another notch in his rebuild belt. Going to arbitration is never the desired outcome and doing something longer term helps create that elusive stability the franchise hasn’t had during his tenure as GM.

That said, he has had to fight for headlines with all the scandals being uncovered by investigative reporter, Rick Westhead

As if the Kyle Beach story weren’t enough, Hockey Canada has been under the heat lamp of late, trying to explain its handling of a recent private settlement in an alleged sexual assault case involving eight members of the CHL (including some members of Canada’s Gold Medal winning 2018 World Junior Hockey team) and a young woman.

Now we are hearing about potential issues arising from as far back as the 2003 World Junior Silver Medal winning team in Halifax.

Investigations are ongoing into how funds have been used to potentially head off other sexual assault cases that are only now coming to light. Sexual assault survivor, Sheldon Kennedy, has called for Hockey Canada to clean house and start anew.

Former Sarnia Sting and NHL forward, Dan Carcillo, is calling for deeper investigations into the culture of major junior hockey in Canada. Carcillo claims to have been assaulted himself during his time in Sarnia by veteran teammates. He also states others were as well and that this sort of behaviour is par for the course in the CHL.

Obviously, this is the kind of privacy no one wants to protect. If, in fact, these investigations show systemic malfeasance and a culture of cover-up, then the pendulum of accountability is long overdue to swing the way of the offender.

There is, however, a level of privacy that has been lost in the social media age that, in my opinion, should be protected. Criminal behaviour is not the only way to end up on the front page.

Recently, it came to light that former Ottawa Senators forward, Bobby Ryan, was arrested for public intoxication at the airport in Nashville, TN. Of course, it was no secret that Ryan had left the Senators in November 2019 to participate in the NHL/NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program. While the program protected his privacy and did not release the details of why he enrolled in it, Ryan returned in February of 2020 and provided a detailed account of what he had been dealing with.

Every inch of his private life was left open for public consumption. Even the pandemic couldn’t save him from an open kimono, where he had to tell the whole world he struggled with alcohol addiction. Ryan was a champ about it, and I am sure it all seemed very therapeutic through our eyes.

He even received the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Everything ends happily right? Far from it, apparently. Once again, Ryan, who left Twitter because of the abuse he was taking over his performance, has since returned (@Bobbyry5409 if you are curious) and is now having to share this setback with millions of people he doesn’t know.

Though Ryan was appreciative of the award, when a player takes that step and admits they need help, knowing the whole world will know of his decision, I highly doubt he's doing it to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. By the time it reaches that point, it must be all about surviving. Giving him that award September 7, 2020 just brought everything back into the limelight again as to why he left the game.

Of course, less than three weeks later, on September 25th, the Senators bought Ryan out of the final two seasons of his contract. Can any you imagine suffering this in front of the civilized world? I couldn’t imagine any amount of money that would make that tolerable.

Ryan is just one example. Less than a year after he entered the program, Carey Price, fresh off a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals, announced he was joining the program.

Again, the program protected Price’s privacy while he participated in it. However, eventually Price felt compelled to break the silence and share what he had been dealing with for years leading up to this decision. Unlike Ryan, Price asked for privacy as he and his family continued to cope.

Another member of the Habs, Jonathan Drouin, voluntarily took part in the program to deal with anxiety and insomnia.

My point goes well beyond the NHL/NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program as well. Things the rest of the world gets to do in relative privacy, athletes and celebrities are forced to endure through public scrutiny.

Real world examples of this include:

  1. Losing a job/Contract Buyout

  2. League/Team discipline

  3. Salary/Contract details

  4. Divorce

  5. Health Concerns

  6. Death/Illness of a family member

The only reason I can see why this is necessary is because athletes and celebrities make a lot of money. Somehow being in the upper echelon of income seems to forfeit a person’s right to privacy.

I will be the first to admit some of these athletes and celebrities, by way of their actions, put themselves in the public eye, sacrificing their own privacy. I am certainly not talking about them. Sometimes they bring it on themselves – that much is certain. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard willingly shared their horror story of an existence with all of us.

I am also very aware many of the same athletes and celebrities use social media (and media in general) to their advantage in the good times to build their brands, increase their visibility and ultimately profit financially.

Does this, in turn, give society the right to know everything about a person who lives their life in the limelight just because we buy tickets to watch them perform? I would suggest not. This isn’t an argument I will win either. Social media is an unstoppable force and even those celebrities who choose not to partake in it cannot avoid it.

I chose the title of the article based on the song by Canadian Rock Band, RUSH, whose song of the same name deals with the struggles to keep the world at arm’s length when being thrust into the Limelight. That song was written in 1981 when there was no such thing as social media. Its words are far more true now than the day it was written.

The late Neil Peart, the lyrical author of that song, openly struggled with the burdens of fame. He endured the worst of tragedies in his life with the death of his daughter and wife in the same year and the highest of highs, being at the pinnacle of his profession. Ironically, the fame and adulation didn’t make the scrutiny he endured during these dark times better. It made it worse.

Assuming that people who make their living in the public eye actually want to live their lives in the public eye is presumptuous to say the least. If they do, then there's no problem to solve. If Bobby Ryan finds it therapeutic to share his experiences with the world, that's his choice. As long as it is, the world keeps on spinning. The minute it becomes his obligation or something he feels compelled to do as part of a publicity campaign to rehabilitate his image, we have a problem.

Ryan was very candid about the story of what he and his mother endured at the hands of his father. When she passed away, he wore that pain outwardly to recognize what she meant to him. No doubt, this plays a huge part in what he deals with every day.

If Ryan didn’t want to share his story, would that stop the world from finding it out? You and I both know it wouldn’t. Perhaps getting out in front of it allows Ryan to ensure the narrative is accurate and not filled in with conjecture. The story is going to be written either way, right?

Though his tweets and willingness to get out in front of things seem genuine and sincere and suggest he wants to be providing updates and acknowledge all the messages of support, I can’t help think it’s all part of an obligation he feels to be transparent. I have never met him or chatted with him. Part of me believes, if he had his druthers, he would seek solitude and support from those he trusts most, not a bunch of strangers.

Misery doesn’t always love company.

Like most, I have found myself envious at times of what athletes and other celebrities who make their living in the public eye get to do. They appear to live their dreams and enjoy financial stability and freedom to do what they want to do, rather than what they have to do.

Stories like Bobby Ryan, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin, among many others, serve as a reminder that while they do enjoy privileges or an entitled life, there is a flip side to that entitlement that I would happily pass on as well.

The only thing the world seems to enjoy more than cheering for their favourite players, teams or personalities, is to watch them end up face down in the dirt. It’s as though the price of their fame is to have to bare their souls in front of the world when it turns out they are human and have vulnerabilities. Social media has allowed the world to document a mistake at the speed of light.

Though traditional and social media have helped advance the world, that’s one aspect that I don’t regard as progress.

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey


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