Another hockey season is underway, and, at least for the Winnipeg Jets, this year seems to be fraught with more drama than the last.
Much of this tension comes as a result of contract disputes, as the Jets scrambled to lock down key players at nearly the last minute. In the final days of September, the team signed “offensive weapons” Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine to a seven-year contract and two-year bridge deal, respectively.
While these signings briefly dominated the local sports news cycle, many Jets fans are preoccupied with one holdout: Dustin Byfuglien. The 34-year-old defenceman is easily one of the biggest personalities in the NHL both on and off the ice, which is why Byfuglien made headlines around the league when he failed to report for training camp.
He was officially granted an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons in early September, and, as the expression goes, that’s when the rumour mill started turning. I couldn’t scroll through my Facebook feed without seeing fans and reporters speculating about what was happening with “Big Buff.”
Local sports columnist Mike McIntyre wrote in a Winnipeg Free Press opinion piece a few weeks ago, “Regardless of what might be happening in Byfuglien's personal life, which frankly is none of our business, this really is about one core issue: How much longer does he want to keep playing hockey?”
But is it? McIntyre himself admits he tried to dig a little deeper and find out what’s really going on – something anyone who’s followed his Twitter feed over the last month can likely attest.
In the same Free Press article, he wrote that Jets head coach “Paul Maurice said there was nothing ‘sinister’ at play here, and from everything I’ve found that is true. There's no scandal or smoking gun to be found.”
It’s a seemingly harmless comment from a reporter merely doing his job – but it’s one that set off red flags for me. At what point does doing one’s due diligence become outright nosy and intrusive?
During my brief stint in sports media, I struggled to find and then toe this line. I had deadlines to meet and radio shows to record – and when covering the same team every single day, finding new and interesting material is a challenge. Still, if a player told me something in confidence or didn’t seem comfortable discussing a certain issue, I tried my best not to broadcast it to the world.
While some, like Byfuglien, might gain celebrity status, athletes at all levels of play are human. They deserve the chance to maintain personal lives and make mistakes, just like anyone else. Even though people out there might think otherwise, these players don’t owe anything to fans or the cities in which they play.
Winnipeg, enjoy players like Connor and Laine while they’re still around. And if the retirement rumours still swirling about Byfuglien are true, remember his time here, thank him for the memories and let him move on with his life.
Danielle Doiron is a writer, editor and marketer based in Winnipeg. She can’t eat wheat right now, so if you have any killer gluten-free recipes, send ’em over.
Published in Volume 74, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 10, 2019)