First off, welcome back. It's too bad it hasn't been a very Jagr-esque year for you up to this point. You've been injured, your team has struggledsorry it can't be supermodels and sports cars all the time. But don't worry, you haven't missed much since you headed down the turnpike. You probably know about the injuries to nearly everyone save your buddy Jan Hrdina, but outside of that it's been pretty much standard fare around the 'Burgh. Actually, the biggest debate amongst Penguin fans right now isn't even about the two home games this week. No, much of the discussion seems to revolve around whether to boo you or not when you return to the Igloo on Friday night.
It's a short-sighted argument, of course, one that somehow selectively ignores about 97% of your contribution to Pittsburgh hockey, but you know how those pesky media types are. There is one perplexing facet to this discussion, though. It's this idea about how people shouldn't boo you because it might 'cut you deeply' or 'hurt your feelings.'
Far be it for this column to be where it first gets said, but in case you haven't realized it by now, Jaromir, you are one of the highest paid athletes in the world. All right, maybe the paycheck doesn't seem as impressive after taxes, but you don't honestly believe that you're paid $10 million a year just to score goals, do you?
The cheers, the jeers; all that and much much more are just part of the job and, at your salary, none of it is negotiable. Face it, were you a Regional VP for Mary Kay Cosmetics, there wouldn't be a pack of beat reporters anxiously waiting by your car to find out how your perennially tender groin is feeling. Were you a bus boy at a Denny's, Don Cherry wouldn't know you from a hole in the wall, and believe it or not, the number of women who want to sleep with a guy just because he works at the nearest Foot Locker is really quite low. For lack of a more colorful expression, this is what you get.
No one is going to argue that the Pittsburgh faithful 'should' boo you on Friday night, but if they want to, that is entirely their right. Purchasing a ticket only grants one access to an event, it does not and should not mandate any particular type of behavior once you're there. On the contrary, it is up to the individual to (hopefully) comport themselves within the boundaries of decorum at a sporting event or anywhere else for that matter.
Buying a ticket grants the ticket holder certain freedoms and voicing an opinion is one of them. Going onto the field of play is not, neither is buying a six dollar beer only to throw two-thirds of it at an opposing team, coach, or official. However, yelling and screaming at a game isn't just acceptable, it's expected.
As evidenced from the parking lot to the hot dog stand, a working knowledge of common courtesy and the ability to conduct a simple cost/benefit analysis are obviously not required at a hockey game. Nor is an I.Q. test, hence the increased probability you'll find the occasional nut-job at a professional sporting event. But would you really want it any other way?
Yes, in reality, booing you at the Igloo would demonstrate not only a remarkable lack of gratitude, but an absolute ignorance of hockey history before the year 2000. Yet, no hockey arena in the world is filled to the gills with Mensa members and no sports fan wants to be surrounded by 18,000 theoretical physicists with matching pocket protectors golf-clapping their way through the contest. Especially not when the alternative is that crazed lunatic who shaves all the hair from his being and paints himself black and gold from head to toe. This overly dedicated soul may not be a rocket scientist, but at least he's into the game and that is something which gets harder and harder to find in the age of the $100 hockey ticket.
The point is, at the NHL level, players are well compensated to deal with the overzealous fan who feels compelled to scream bloody murder for three hours straight. They're also well compensated to put their bodies on the line every night, accept hotel room keys from groupies, and field redundant questions from the press. It's all part of the same job. Therefore, Jaromir, you asking fans not to boo you is much like a receptionist asking if he or she can be shielded from the horrors of the fax machine. You can ask, just don't be surprised at the look you receive when you do.
Would booing you when you touch down in Pittsburgh be wrong? Absolutely, you have given Pittsburgh some of the best hockey memories in the history of the game, but that doesn't negate the right of the paying fan to be a blithering idiot. After all, making a drunken spectacle out of oneself is something this country is famous for.
In short, don't be surprised on Friday night, no matter what happens. Pittsburgh is going to be Pittsburgh and you're going to be you. Remember, it's the reason you left. It's also the reason you stayed for a decade.
See you soon.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com and believes in fans', states', and consumers' rights. That is provided they don't infringe on his pursuit of life, liberty, and his never-ending quest to one day find an arena beer for under five bucks.