Photo Credit: © Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Of Kadri, Voynov And The Other “Unwanted”

July 30, 2018. One of my friends – a die hard Blue Jays fan – texted me while I was at work.

“Check Twitter. Rosenthal says your guys got Osuna.”

The “Rosenthal” in that text message would be baseball reporter and well known insider Ken Rosenthal. If he had a scoop, it was likely true. The “your guys” part of that line were my beloved Houston Astros.

“Osuna” of course refers to Roberto Osuna who was arrested and charged with assault. Those charges were later dropped due to the victim’s refusal to testify, but baseball still rightly suspended him for 75 games for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.

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I didn’t reply to him that moment. I had hoped he was duped into believing a fake twitter account, but it was MLB trade deadline time and the Astros – defending World Series champions – did need help with their bullpen so it was very plausible. As I logged into the social media app, I felt my baseball loving soul caving in a bit, almost dreading what I was about to confirm and when I did see it, my heart sank.

I’ve since re-read the tweets I made that night. As I read them the feelings of feeling betrayed by my team – a team that is supposed to be “better than this” – bringing in someone like Osuna.

(Astroball by Ben Reiter is a fantastic book about the tear down and rebuilding of the Astros from perennial also-rans, to basement dwellers, to eventual MLB champions, and one of these days I am going to write about how it’s a must read for any sports fan in how it is ideal for teams to value both analytics and gut instincts in forming a winning club.)

For the next few days I fought with the idea of rooting for a team with a known domestic abuser (semantics of “never charged, ergo not guilty” be damned) on the roster. I wondered how long it would be until the Expos came back. I actually did root for the Minnesota Twins as a side team while the Astros were in their three year 100 loss a season rebuild, I debated being a full-time Twins fan.

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“You could be a Jays fan” my friend texted me the next day when I finally did reply to him.

“Would that be the same Jays that decided to use Osuna to get some assets back for their club instead of outright dropping him like they should have? Not exactly paragons of virtue in this story if you ask me.” I replied back.

After a few days I finally came to a realization.

At some point, your favorite sports team is going to bring in or deal with an objectionable person as a member of their roster. It could be a person with discipline issues on the ice or field or court, or it could be someone with legal issues off of it. The severity of those issues will range anywhere from “he’s an asshole” to “convicted felon” and that range will also likely dictate how gross you feel about that player joining your beloved team.

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On July 2, 2008, I was firmly entrenched in my Dallas Stars fandom when they signed Sean Avery. I hated it because here was a guy who led the NHL in penalty minutes for multiple seasons and had a history of being disruptive to his own team and a needless distraction that contributed very little offensively, but I kept the faith because, well that’s just what fans do. Plus I figured if Harry Doyle could live with Jack Parkman joining the Cleveland Indians, then I could put up with Sean Avery…

Avery’s time in Dallas ended up being a disaster because – unsurprisingly – Sean Avery did Sean Avery things.

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So it was with amusement that I saw Ken Wiebe’s article on Friday suggesting that the Jets should look into bring Nazem Kadri to Winnipeg.

If you’re a hockey fan, you know who Kadri is and what his often times suspension worthy play style is like. It’s not Sean Avery levels of “awful” but it’s bad enough that even the most ardent of Leafs fans openly question if he’s worth keeping on the roster. A debate they’ve had actually a few seasons now.

Jets fans reactions to the thought of Kadri on their team was a bit predictable given his past history.

I fully admit my knee-jerk reaction to the idea was similar, but I then remember that Brendan Lemieux was a thing that happened and we as Jets fans seemed to be ok with it. Heck, some of you hated that we traded him and it wasn’t that long ago we were saying things like “great kid, sure wish he’d get his head on straight” so maybe Kadri could be the same, only a little more talented than Lemieux was? I think I could live with it as most fans could.

“It’s amazing how a new uniform can change your attitude about a guy…”

The players I’ve mentioned so far, Avery, Kadri and Lemieux… All of them are / or were hated for mostly on-ice tactics and just that alone was enough to have fans question their loyalty and patience. At the very least, once they step outside of the rink they’ve been model citizens, or at the very least haven’t been arrested for breaking any laws.

Which brings me to Vyacheslav Voynov.

You likely know his story. If not, The Athletic goes over it here. Fair warning, it’s a difficult read and highlights just how much of a monster Voynov is.

Simply put, he shouldn’t be allowed to play professional hockey ever again. Jason Gregor over at OilerNation had a fantastic write-up on the whole situation. Somehow though he is going to find a way back into the NHL and even grosser still, his suspension was effectively ‘reduced’ by an independent arbitrator.

Once that suspension expires, there is going to be an NHL general manager who won’t be able to help himself. They’ll sign Voynov.

Much like the Houston Astros did a year ago, that GM will then talk about how he’s done his homework and believes Voynov is a better person now, and how the team is committed to raising awareness of domestic violence and maybe even make a token gesture such as donating to a women’s shelter…

And there is going to be a fan base feeling left sick and gutted by a team they thought was “better than this” … Sure, there will be some that are ok with it and will go on about “second chances” as if somehow punching a woman in the face is somehow a mistake akin to locking keys in a car or forgetting a wallet at home when out for lunch with a friend.

There will be fans who might cringe, but accept that in professional sports – rightly or wrongly – results seem to matter more than character and hope that his character has at least improved. There will be fans who will feel betrayed and out of sheer principals of what is right and wrong and who still believe that character does matter and won’t be able to support that team maybe ever again.

Likewise, your reaction to how you handle your favorite team bringing in a noted “on-ice jerk” as opposed to bringing in a someone who pleaded no contest and went to jail for abuse might be vastly different as well (as it maybe should be), but you ultimately may be able to live with one or both situations playing out for your club and move on. You also may ‘quit’ following or being a fan of your team just the same if they traded for a player like Kadri or signed a person like Voynov.

I remain an Astros fan. I am not at all a fan of Roberto Osuna nor will I ever be a fan of his, not even as he set a team record for consecutive saves.

At some point, your favorite sports team is going to bring in or deal with an objectionable person as a member of their roster. How you react to that is solely up to you and either way your response won’t be wrong.