Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby took heat in some circles for missing the 2015 NHL All-Star Game with an injury, but in reality, no player has been more giving of his time – and hockey fans can't expect players to live their lives in public 24/7.
Let me see if I've got this straight: Sidney Crosby was selfish for missing the NHL's All-Star Game weekend? It wasn't enough that he was injured, and would have to sit out the Penguins' first game after the break – he wasn't there to shake hands and kiss babies, and that's all the evidence we need of his moral turpitude? Is that what we're going with?
If so, one question: just how much of Crosby's time – or any athlete's time – is the public entitled to? Who do we think we are, and when did we decide a star's every waking moment was going to be ours? Why do some of us think there's a string to be pulled in each player's back, and all we need to do is stretch that string back, let it snap into place between his shoulder blades, and sit back as they perform for our enjoyment?
This is what I'm talking about: the NHL just announced the return of its World Cup of Hockey in 2016, adding another event to an already-overpacked calendar for its best players. As it is, between the conclusion of the Stanley Cup playoffs in mid-June and the kickoff of NHL training camps in early September, those players have only a handful of weeks to themselves and their families before they're back on a sheet of ice somewhere or training in a gym. With another destination for Crosby now in 2016, he'll be busier than ever.
The NHL Awards. The Olympics. The Winter Classic. The list never ends, and because he's involved with all high-profile events, a player of Crosby's stature opens up his life to the public at virtually every turn. He's been in the spotlight since he was a seven-year-old phenom in Nova Scotia. This is to say nothing of his promotional efforts for the team and the NHL's annual media tour, his endorsement work that also helps the community, and of course, the time he gives to charity.
Does this sound like an individual hoarding their time from the fans and the world around them? How can anyone rationally argue Crosby hasn't been an incredible ambassador for the sport?
Taking a moment or two to in the midst of an unnaturally condensed schedule to breathe, to decompress emotionally, to not have eyes bearing down on him at every turn, is his right. Like every athlete who is relatively overcompensated compared to most of society, Crosby owes the public a great deal, but he doesn't owe them everything – and he certainly doesn't owe them mandatory attendance at a thoroughly non-essential event like the All-Star Game.
When the Penguins were in Toronto last season, Crosby had just completed his post-game media scrum with a gaggle of reporters, and was taking off the last pieces of equipment when a columnist for The Hockey News ran in late, and walked up to him before quietly asking if he had a couple more minutes to answer a few more questions. Crosby didn't sigh out of exasperation, or wave off the person knowing only one voice recorder was capturing his words. He said yes to the request, gave a little bit more of himself and his time, and hockey fans got to read a better story because of it.
But even if he wasn't so gracious, you could understand why. Although some of us treat them that way, these are not robots we're talking about. The rare number of zeroes at the end of their paychecks doesn't present us with permission to dehumanize them and presume they'll always jump at our demands, whenever and wherever we make them.
Sidney Crosby took a few days off, and hockey didn't implode. Let's remember that next time we're tempted to pout when we can't have the equivalent of The Clapper to access our hockey idols whenever the mood strikes.