The world needs villains as much as it needs heroes. There’s the paradigm that without evil, there is no good; there’s no love without hate. The same law applies to the smaller world of the NHL.
Sean Avery: one of the most hated players to ever play the game, and currently interchangeably #1 or #2 with Matt Cooke. Cries of joy were jubilantly sung when word was passed that he was waived and demoted to the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale (can we talk about what a ridiculous name that is, and how awful their jerseys are?). Some got even more excited when they heard he was considering playing in Europe. “We never have to see this scumbag in an NHL arena again!” said 90% of the league’s fan base and Marty Broduer.
But is that really what we all want? Is it possible that supporters of the anti-Avery agenda were speaking purely out of raw emotion and not considering all the things that make the sport great?
Everyone loves to hate someone, or something. In every context, people are going to have a passion both for and against at least one idea. It’s true. Think of any topic and you’ll quickly be able to recognize one thing you hate and one you love about it. Think of your favorite team. Think of your favorite TV show or movie. Think of your group of friends (there’s always “that guy”) Hell, think of your family. Now, think of how all those things would be without the thing(s) that you hate. It’s going to suck not having a scapegoat to blame when your team blows a 3-goal lead. It’s going to suck without that one character that you just want to see their face get punched in every time they make an appearance (I’m looking at you, Shooter McGavin). It’s going to suck not having a “friend” to talk smack about behind his/her back. It’s going to suck not having the one “screw up” in your family to make you feel better about yourself (if you can’t point him/her out, it’s you. Get your life together!). Everything is better when you have something to hate as much as something to love.
Now think of your favorite sport (in this case, it’s hockey. It’s not hockey? Let me direct you to the giant red “X” in the top right of your computer screen…don’t click it; I need readers). Now think of the players that comprise the sport. Think about every time you watch a hockey game and how you feel about certain players. In every game you watch, whether it’s a team you care about against a team you hate, or the Florida Panthers vs. the New York Islanders, there’s going to be one player, coach, referee, announcer, vendor, or annoying fan in the background that does something you hate. You wish that scum was gone from sport and maybe even the face of the earth, at least for the time being. But if you look deep inside, you’ll thank the hockey gods that these people are around; it’s your disdain for them and how angry they make you feel that makes watching the game so fantastic. That’s what being a sports fan is all about. It’s the thousands of varied emotions you feel on a second-to-second basis, and how each moment makes you feel alive. You want to see a-holes get rocked by a George Parros uppercut; you want to see them fail at the sport; you want to see them get crushed into the stanchions by a 6’9″ Zdeno Chara body check (too soon?). You live for those moments as much as you live for the moments when your team wins; and for fans of a team that doesn’t win, you have to rely on those hate-driven bursts of glee to keep sane (I’m looking at you, all of Ohio’s pro sports).
Deep inside, you’re glad that Sean Avery was placed on re-entry waivers and could make his season debut as early as this Thursday (unless you’re an Avery-hating Rangers fan). Sure, you might hate New York sports already, but isn’t it much better to hate them with that loudmouth clown running around stirring the pot? Don’t you want to play the Rangers and obliterate them and that fashion-designing, stick-waving, name-calling bum?
And you hate Sean Avery for all the right reasons; he’s the ideal player to hate in the league. Despite popular belief, he is NOT a dirty player: he’s never been suspended for an on-ice action (nor should he have been), he’s never injured another player, he’s never thrown a bad elbow to someone’s head, he doesn’t take runs at players from behind, or generally do anything that Matt Cooke might do (which, this year, unfortunately includes putting the puck in the net). And that’s a good thing. You don’t want to hate a player because he’s a safety risk out on the ice, you want to hate a player because he’s either too good and wrecks your team or he’s just that douche from high school that you hoped would get caught for smoking weed in the bathroom.
And let’s not forget about HBO’s upcoming 24/7 (I can’t WAIT!). Assuming Avery will still be on the team by the time filming starts, he’s going to make the series a lot more interesting. Who doesn’t want to hear some of the stuff he says to players on the ice that make them hate him so much (some examples). What’s he like off the ice? What antic is he going to come up with next?
Bottom line is that Sean Avery is a character that brings some attention to the sport outside of the hockey community (see what he’s done for gay rights, which took balls, by the way); whether that attention is good or bad is up for debate, but the sport needs characters. The sport needs a villain, and I think we can all agree that we’d rather the villain be a loudmouthed bum than an elbow-happy, gap-toothed, dog-rapist faced scumbag (the ambiguity is intentional yet unavoidable).