The “image” of a person is a tricky thing to comprehend. For some, the world is a place where status and comparison to peers is the major driving force in decisions, actions and even general behavior towards others. Those folks are the ones who cherish their own image more than their own life to some extent. “Life isn’t worth living if people don’t notice me” is the mantra that comes to mind, and each and every one of us knows a person like that. Then there are those who don’t really care what the world thinks about them. They live life on their own terms; the opinion of the masses has no real bearing on how they act, what they say or who they offend. It’s their life, goddammit, and they just don’t have time to deal with the insecurities of the people around them.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. We live our lives taking care of ourselves and those around us, but there’s always a wary eye cast in the direction of the world we interact with every day. Maybe we don’t need to be an early adopter when it comes to technology or fashion or music, but we definitely don’t want to be left by the wayside. So we lean on the resources around us and we go through the motions of learning about something we might not really care that much about, all in the name of keeping our image and reputation intact. If we’re lucky, we’ll never have to deal with a crisis of image; our fashion choice on a Tuesday morning probably won’t take our colleagues and friends to the brink of hatred and disgust, and that cream cheese smeared bagel won’t stir up too much commotion in the kitchen, except for the girl in accounting who is on a diet and would give everything to break her diet and take a bite of the goodness that we get to enjoy.
Much has already been made of Todd Bertuzzi’s hit on Ryan Johnson last night, and I’m not going to add anything remotely redeeming to this discussion when it comes to the violence and subsequent punishment of the offense last night. I’ve already made it clear that the hit was dirty – he left his feet and led with his back shoulder instead of facing up – and subsequently dangerous, and even though the league has already said there won’t be any additional punishment, I wouldn’t have been grabbing for my torch and pitchfork if the wheel of justice had landed on a different outcome. The league has been clear throughout this entire season that hits to the head are a major point of emphasis, and every single player knows this when they take the ice. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Bertuzzi wasn’t gunning for Johnson’s head and wasn’t trying to injure him, but intent goes out the window when a major issue like player safety and concussions come into play. The NHL, already smarting from the loss of one of the league’s premiere players to a headshot, offers little room for interpretation in these cases, and that usually means taking into consideration whether the player on the receiving end left the ice on his own two feet or on a stretcher. The league felt that time served was enough, and that’s where the actual judging of the incident will end. It doesn’t mean that the judging of Bertuzzi’s character is anywhere close to being over, though.
I’ve always firmly believed that one of the reasons Wings fans are so quick to pick up on cheap play or dirty hits is because we believe our team holds themselves to a higher standard when it comes to playing the game of hockey. I don’t disagree with that assertion, but I’ve often felt that the judgment that gets passed along is such a cavalier manner would come back to haunt us as a fanbase at some point, and we now stand dangerously upon that precipice after last night’s incident. When it comes to Todd Bertuzzi, there’s a clear line in the sand: you either love him or hate him. He’s either a misunderstood individual who had a momentary lapse of judgment a few years ago, or he’s the dirtiest sonofabitch to ever strap on skates and take the ice. Take your pick. If you’re a regular around these parts, you already know how I feel about the guy, and I’ll be the first to admit that my stomach seized up last night when I heard he had been tossed for a headshot.
That’s the deal, though, when it comes to Todd Bertuzzi. No matter how many games of clean, respectful hockey he puts under his belt, he’ll always be judged for the Moore incident. And just like we saw last night, as soon has his character is even called into question, the ignorant and opinionated will come crawling out of the woodwork to pass judgment on both player and fanbase. Sure, it’s relatively easy to pick on a loyal fanbase like Detroit’s. It’s easy to smell the nervousness when expectations aren’t being met on the ice and it’s easy to latch on to a built-in scapegoat like Bertuzzi when his skates come too close to crossing the line of good and bad. For me, at least, last night came way too close for comfort in dealing with one of the biggest fears I have as a Red Wings fan: What IF Todd crosses the line again? What IF he makes a terrible decision and tears down all of the faith I’ve had in him since he arrived in Detroit?
There are plenty of images in play when it comes to situations like these. For Bertuzzi, his image is already tarnished and no amount of goodwill or gentlemanly behavior will ever remove the dark mark he currently bears. For the Wings as an organization, they knew they were taking a risk in bringing Bertuzzi to Detroit, and the thought of him betraying that trust in a moment of aggression would serve as a sign of disrespect for everything that Ken Holland and Co. have done for Todd, both personally and professionally. For me, it’s all about my image as a fan and ardent supporter of #44. I’ve stood behind him while others ridicule and I would hate for my faith to be shaken as all of those skeletons come crashing out of the closet. I find myself still firmly behind Bertuzzi, so don’t take this as me questioning my beliefs. But sometimes the fear of the worst case scenario can rattle you to the bones even more than if that scenario actually played out.
This incident is over and it’s time to move past it. But we all know that the potential for worse is always right around the corner, even if the player in question has no idea it’s coming. A late hit. An awkward angle. Anything can lead to the great inquisition that Todd Bertuzzi, the Red Wings and the entire fan base knows that so many people long for. While Todd’s image may never recover, there are still many who feel they have plenty on the line when it comes to his actions. Here’s hoping we never get to the point and that each of our foundations are secure.