Star ath­letes are still hu­man

Karls­son affair a re­minder that stars are hu­man

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT STIN­SON Com­ment

There is a room tucked away in most are­nas that has long seemed like a funny throw­back to a much ear­lier time. It usu­ally has a sim­ple sign out­side that says some­thing like Play­ers’ Wives’ Room, but the la­bel is un­nec­es­sary: be­tween the lounge chairs and the parked baby strollers and the as­sorted chil­dren’s toys strewn about, it is fairly clear that it is not a meet­ing room or a high­priced lux­ury suite.

The idea that there is this spe­cific place for women to gather while their hus­bands are at work feels of another era, the mod­ern ver­sion of the par­lour where the ladies gath­ered while the men­folk smoked cigars and con­ducted se­ri­ous busi­ness.

But it’s also a re­minder that, for as much as ath­letes can be treated like fun­gi­ble as­sets, they are ac­tual peo­ple with per­sonal lives and fam­i­lies and all that can en­tail.

It’s a point that was blown into the open in about the most awk­ward way pos­si­ble this week with the news that Melinda Karls­son, wife of star Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors de­fence­man Erik, has ap­plied for a peace bond that al­leges se­rial on­line ha­rass­ment by Monika Caryk, the girl­friend of Mike Hoff­man, his Sens team­mate.

There are many caveats to note with this story. None of the al­le­ga­tions have been tested in court; and the peace bond, which dates to early May, still has not been served on Caryk her­self.

Hoff­man and his agent, Robert Hooper, both de­nied to the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen that Caryk was be­hind the on­line ha­rass­ment, which Melinda Karls­son al­leges in­cluded death wishes and ac­cu­sa­tions of drug use that led to the Karlssons’ first child be­ing still­born in March. Erik Karls­son him­self replied to that anony­mous In­sta­gram com­ment by sug­gest­ing that he knew the au­thor had been ha­rass­ing him and his wife “for months” but that “this is an all new low even for you. You are a dis­gust­ing per­son.”

The Sen­a­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing, as are Ot­tawa po­lice.

Fans of just about any team have prob­a­bly heard sto­ries about af­fairs and love tri­an­gles that have led to locker-room strife. Of­ten these rise to the apoc­ryphal and not much more, but any­time a fight be­tween team­mates breaks out in prac­tice, one of the early the­o­ries is usu­ally that there is a woman in­volved. Or gam­bling debts.

Rarely, though, has some­thing quite so ugly spilled out, es­pe­cially with the added twist of so­cial me­dia be­ing the fo­rum for the be­hav­iour in ques­tion. It’s a most mod­ern of sports sto­ries, with some­one al­legedly us­ing the pre­sump­tion of anonymity granted by an In­sta­gram ac­count with a fake name to tar­get a vic­tim with a public pro­file.

If the posts and com­ments are linked back to Caryk — stat­ing again for the record here that the Hoff­man camp de­nies she is be­hind them — then it would be the sec­ond time in less than a week that so­cial me­dia be­hav­iour had a po­ten­tially fran­chise-al­ter­ing im­pact on the for­tunes of a pro­fes­sional sports team.

Last week it was Bar­bara Bot­tini, the wife of Philadel­phia 76ers pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager Bryan Colan­gelo, who was iden­ti­fied as the au­thor of hun­dreds of Twit­ter posts, on anony­mous ac­counts, that de­fended her hus­band, and oc­ca­sion­ally crit­i­cized his play­ers and di­vulged team se­crets. What started out as a funny story about a thin-skinned ex­ec­u­tive turned grim when it turned out Colan­gelo’s wife was just try­ing to stand up for him. He lost his job and was not par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­cia­tive of her ef­forts.

But the ug­li­ness of that story is mild rel­a­tive to what is al­leged to have hap­pened with the Sen­a­tors. The fact that Karls­son took le­gal ac­tion against Caryk sug­gests that there is lit­tle chance of fence-mend­ing to be done here, even if the ha­rass­ment is linked to some­one else. Hoff­man’s agent even ac­knowl­edged as much, telling the Cit­i­zen that “it would be very dif­fi­cult for both par­ties to co-ex­ist.” Ei­ther Caryk has con­ducted an aw­ful so­cial­me­dia cam­paign against the wife of a Sens team­mate, or she has been un­fairly ac­cused of do­ing so by that wife. That horse will not go back in that barn.

This is the part of team man­age­ment that fans, and me­dia, of­ten don’t see when we con­sider trades and draft picks and any num­ber of trans­ac­tions that sim­ply move play­ers around like pieces on a chess­board. It’s easy to slip into the habit of treat­ing play­ers purely like prop­erty, as­sets to be ex­ploited. That at­ti­tude can be per­va­sive, as can be seen any­time a player has the temer­ity to ask for a trade, or de­cline one, or leave in free agency. That way lies a jer­sey burned in anger.

The ath­letes-as-chat­tel con­cept is also seen when play­ers are rou­tinely blasted for poor per­for­mance with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion of con­tribut­ing fac­tors. Some play­ers ab­so­lutely do not put in the work to be­come suc­cess­ful, oth­ers try their damnedest but strug­gle in un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings, or in a dif­fi­cult role, or just be­cause they are lonely.

They get paid great sums of money, to be sure, for a ca­reer that is, de­servedly, the envy of most fans. But ath­letes can get hurt, too. They can lose a child. They can strug­gle with de­pres­sion and abuse. It is trite to say that star play­ers are also hu­man. But some­times we need to be re­minded of that.

Clock­wise from top: Erik Karls­son, Monika Caryk, Mike Hoff­man and Melinda Karls­son. The Sens cap­tain’s wife, Melinda, has filed an or­der of pro­tec­tion against Hoff­man’s girl­friend, Caryk, al­leg­ing ha­rass­ment and cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.


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