Insulting probably is the appropriate term for it, and some sort of apology is certainly in order. Yet it's not Penguin fans who have been insulted, it's their collective intelligence and the last person who needs to apologize to them is Mario Lemieux.
When asked about the criticism he's been seeing as the Olympics have drawn closer while the Penguins' playoff chances have slipped further away, Mario Lemieux turned to reporters last week in Ottawa and replied, "You can't please everybody. That's what I've found out in my career, that it doesn't matter what I do. There are always going to be people who are going to be happy and people who are going to be ticked off. As long as the people close to me know the purpose and agree with my decision, that's all that matters. As long as my teammates and the people in the organization understand the situation, that's all that matters for me. There are always going to be people who are bitching. That's part of life."
Around the time these words were utteredthe exact moment still has yet to be pinpointedthe world apparently ground to a halt. But the really frightening thing about these comments is not that they were said, but rather that they were then, and are now, the absolute truth.
Call it a life lesson, one hopefully learned as early as possible. You can't please all of the people all of the time. It's impossible.
You can add to that the fact that people will always complain, and that people will always "bitch," because that's a given. If only death and taxes could be so certain. Are people wrong to complain? Sometimes, but mostly people complain because they're not satisfied with something and since personal satisfaction is subjective, attempting any kind of universal satisfaction is to ask for one rough life. And complaining? Does North America do anything better?
This is a land where people get paid to complain on a daily basis from the bully pulpit of nationwide talk radio. Others, sadly, simply have to make due, whining through widely circulated Internet columns. Of course, many of those columns would translate quite well to syndicated radio, and certain columnists would be more than willing to discuss such prospects should any interested parties pick up the phone. Nevertheless, complaining about sports is more than just part of the overall landscape, it's an essential component of the sports fan's DNA. Whether it's genuine criticism of the team or merely the projection of life's annoyances through a convenient outlet, there isn't a sports fan out there who doesn't complain about their team.
Thus, the fact that Mario Lemieux accepts this, and moreover, that he understands that the only opinions which truly matter in life are the opinions of those you care about and those who care about you, is actually pretty impressive. This is a concept many people, and most politicians, never grasp at all, yet somehow in this case it's met with derision rather than recognition.
But forget that he was right for a moment, concentrate instead on Mario Lemieux's crime. What he admitted, straight out, was that for the last few weeks (perhaps even more) his focus has been on the Olympics. That's right, weeks, maybe even months. Heaven forbid.
The Olympics happen once every four years, and there are athletes who have spent their entire lives focused on and preparing for these particular games which should be Mario's only real shot at winning a gold medal for his country. They’ve spent years while Mario's been preparing, when he can, for the last couple of months, at most.
Is public stoning still socially acceptable?
Certainly the Penguins have missed Mario this year, but couldn't it be argued that they've missed Martin Straka more? Would the Penguins have been better off had Mario gone all out in every single game he's played this year? Of course, but the Penguins would be better off if every player on the roster had gone all out in every contest this season and lord knows that hasn't happened. Where's the righteous indignation for that?
Yes, this team is sinking like a rock in the standings, but it is shortsighted and simplistic to blame it all on one person, no matter how convenient it may seem at the time (think: Jaromir Jagr circa last season).
Fine, Mario's recent actions and comments haven't helped things, but if Mario Lemieux should apologize for stating the obvious, are there not other people in this organization, other players and personnel who have committed far greater sins which make them infinitely more qualified to lead off this 'mea culpa' parade?
How about General Manager Craig Patrick? He could apologize for not firing former Head Coach Ivan Hlinka earlier in an effort to give his replacement adequate time to implement his own system in Pittsburgh. Or, speaking of coaches, how about current Head Coach, Rick Kehoe. It's generally accepted that he's been out-coached most of the season, how sorry is he about that?
After scoring a combined 47 points in a combined 158 games, Milan Kraft, Toby Petersen, and Kris Beech could schedule a press conference at any time to choke back some tears and read a statement about how they're not yet ready for the NHL. Or someone, anyone, on the team could take the microphone in a contrite effort to explain why there isn't a Penguin within the top 100 plus/minus players league wide.
Of the current, top 40 points leaders in the league, not one is a Pittsburgh Penguin. Nor can you find a Penguin among the top 35 goal scorers. Remove Alexei Kovalev from the mix and those numbers get even worse. Should the team, en mass, stand up and apologize for this? Should Kehoe do it for them?
Maybe, but it's not going to happen and nobody expects it to. Because as myopic as any fan can be, no one expects a team to win every gamejust as no one honestly expects to please all of the people all of the time.
So, call Mario Lemieux arrogant because he assumes that he can lead Canada to gold one week and then turn around to single-handedly save the Penguins' season the next. Call him selfish because he is the center of attention in Pittsburgh, the NHL, and Salt Lake City all at the same time. Say that he's thoughtless because he appears to be choosing Canada over Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh has given (and will continue to give) him everything his heart desires while Canada continues to ask him to take a number. Or call him self-serving for taking $5 million a season, being team captain, and acting surprised when his reign is questioned.
Call Mario whatever you want, but don't call him for an apology. He may not have handled this well, but what he said was absolutely right, and no amount of bitching is going to change that.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com and believes in Mario. He also believes this Penguin season has turned into a three-ring circus. One with a lot of sad clowns and popped balloons, but a circus nonetheless.