Maxime Comtois and The Dark Side of Sports Fandom

| January 17, 2019

If I remember correctly, it says in my bio that I’m a hockey fan, so you had to expect a hockey article at some point, so… here it is.

Recently, the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships finished up in Vancouver. This is an international tournament for players under 20 years old. Anaheim Ducks and Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL) winger Maxime Comtois, as the most experienced Canadian at the tournament, was named the captain of Team Canada. Comtois and Team Canada exploded in their first game, throttling Team Denmark, 14-0, with Comtois himself scoring 4 goals. I say this, in addition to the statistic about Comtois scoring 7 points in 10 games this year with Anaheim to show just what a good player he is. Canada rolled through group play, ultimately playing eventual champion Finland, where they lost 2-1 in overtime. Comtois missed a penalty shot in overtime that would have given Canada the win, but instead, Canada went without a medal… in a hockey tournament. What happened next was awful. The comments Comtois received on his Instagram were so bad that he had to disable comments. These ranged from perpetuating offensive stereotypes about people, especially hockey players from Quebec, to outright death threats. Remember, we’re talking about a 19 year-old boy here, missing a shot that, by percentage, is more likely to be missed than to be made. There are two problems that the abhorrent treatment of Comtois show. One of them is about social media, especially Instagram. On Instagram, you “follow” people who you don’t know. These people abusing Maxime Comtois did not know him, but acted like they did because they pressed a little blue button on a screen. The other issue is the cover people have for abuse. The people spewing vitriol at Comtois will most likely never see him in real life. They will not say the awful things they said online to his face. They can hide behind a screen and type them. This is the first aspect of the troubling nature of the cyberbullying Maxime Comtois was on the end of. The other issue, and, as a sports fan, it pains me to say this, is sports fandom. You go so nuts over a game and scrutinize the people playing it so much that you forget that these are people too and should be treated with common decency. Sadly, this is not the first time that an athlete has been subject to threats and abuse because of “poor” (I put poor in quotation marks because Comtois scored four goals in the first game) performance. I’ve not really followed the Cody Parkey situation in Chicago all that closely, but I bet that the Internet trolls have unleashed on him too. It’s stupid and wrong. The great philosopher-goalie Ilya Bryzgalov famously argued that hockey was only a game, so why did people have to be mad? You should care about sports and you should be a little upset when your team loses. That was not the point Bryzgalov was making, and that is not the point that I am making. The point that Bryzgalov made was that a game should not make someone mad enough to abuse another person. I agree. We should all agree. What happened to Maxime Comtois is unacceptable and some sports fans need to learn to conduct themselves better. I’m sick of these stories coming out.