Don’t Believe What You Are Hearing Elsewhere About Alain Vigneault, The Person

I want to start this post off by letting you know that Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes is a friend of mine. We’ve covered many of the same games. We’ve traveled to the same cities. We’ve broken bread together many times. He played on my softball team.

Marcus is a really good dude who, in my opinion, is too often overly-criticized in this city for his sports columns in the Daily News and Inquirer, including here on this website.

But today, I couldn’t be more in disagreement with one of Marcus’ takes.

In fact, I have a major problem with it.

And, to be fair, it’s not just Marcus. It’s a lot of people. It’s others in the local media. It’s muscle-flexers on Twitter. It’s hot takes from a national perspective without so much as the least bit of context behind it.

In short, this character assassination of Flyers coach Alain Vigneault is ridiculous. It’s completely unfair. It’s gone too far. And frankly, it’s unbecoming of those of us who are always looking for a story.

If you’ve been “living in a bubble” for the past couple days, you can get a recap of what happened with Vigneault this week here first and then here second. 

I don’t want to belabor what I have to say by providing a recap. I just want to get right into it. So please read those posts first if you haven’t already.

As a writer in this area for the past two decades, I am personally appalled by how most news is presented everywhere these days, everyone has an agenda it seems. I usually try to stay out of the fray – which is my right – but this one is taking place in my backyard, so I felt the need to address it.

It all started, not with Marcus’ column, but with commentary from Craig Button following Vigneault’s press conference Thursday morning.

In case you missed it, here it is:

“Ignorant” may be an accurate word by definition, but is still too strong, especially in delivery by Button. Oblivious would be more apropos. But “abhorrent?” “Indefensible?” “Woeful?” Come on, dude.

And here’s how hypocritical Button is – he wanted Vigneault to simply address it – to say that equality matters. That racism is evil. That human life is more important than sports outcomes. Things we all should believe – and which Vigneault, if you know the man, certainly believes as well. And yet, in the same video hit – mere minutes after he used up his full array of negative adjectives about Vigneault, Button followed up and said this:

“It’s not good enough to say we are aware. It’s not good enough to say we are going to try to forward the issues….”

So, in other words, just echoing your words of support for change – like seven other NHL coaches did when asked the same question – wouldn’t have been good enough either? Where was the vitriol toward them?

Where was the anger toward the league for letting games go on Wednesday night? Where was the hyperbolic bashing when assistant commissioner Bill Daly said the league had no plans on postponing games on Thursday either?

These were pointed and direct decisions made in the wake of the social unrest that had gripped the nation when the NBA players decided to protest the games the day before.

Crickets from most of the hockey media – including Button.

But then Vigneault doesn’t give a pad answer everyone is expecting – the simple sound byte that can be thrown somewhere toward the bottom of everyone’s identical, pre-written story in which there’s a sentence in caps lock that says “INSERT COACH QUOTE HERE” so they can be done their job for the day and get back to their usual summertime routine.

And because of that – because Vigneault was honest and told you he was unaware of what was happening in the world around him, he was dragged through the mud – mostly because his answer was different and being different isn’t good.

The irony in that is rich.

So, we have stories about Vigneault and how he awkwardly answered a question that everyone just wanted him to say the same thing as everyone else. And Vigneault’s name gets unnecessarily soiled because of it.

So, what’s the coach to do?

In most cases, the team jumps in here to play crowd control and to put out the fire. Usually, the team puts together a statement, often written by a public relations professional, and depending on the severity of the situation, sometimes by a lawyer, and a statement is released to the media along of the lines of:

“I apologize for the phrasing of my words at the press conference yesterday. They were likely considered a little flippant and and out of touch. Of course I, like every other coach and player in the NHL, stand together in the fight against systemic racism, support our social justice initiatives, and promise to be a part of the solution going forward and not part of the problem.”

It took me 35 seconds to write that. I actually timed it.

That, of course would have been acceptable to the masses. Marcus even said so in his column:

“All Vigneault had to say before his team played Game Three of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday night was: ‘Look, I should have been better prepared for Thursday’s press conference, and I said some insensitive things, and I support what the players and leagues are doing.’

“Then it’s over. Then he’s just another hockey coach who said something  dumb. But AV, like most of those afflicted with the insidious, often asymptomatic disease of White Male Privledge, has his pride. That disease will not let you back down. So, he flexed.”

Got that coach? Next time, just say what you’re supposed to say – it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Just say it so we can all live blissfully making pretend that everyone agrees with each other on everything.

See, this is where Marcus’ column really started to bother me.

And it’s unfortunate, because I think Marcus and I are aligned on the greater issues at hand. We don’t need to be part of the woke mob to tell you we both believe that yes, Black lives matter, that police reform in this country is long overdue, and that there is no place for systemic racism in the world, specifically here in the USA.

But using a hockey-coach who is literally living in a bubble, in the midst of a playoff series during a pandemic, who has nothing else on his agenda besides his job and getting some sustenance and a few hours sleep, as a foil to highlight White Male Privledge is just unfair.

(Oh, and look, I capitalized “White Male Privledge” too, is that a thing now? It’s not in my style book. Maybe I should know, but maybe it’s predictable that as a 46-year-old, white American thousandaire that I don’t.)

Yeah, that’s a little snark from me. Because there were a couple more moments in Marcus’ column that made me ill.

The first was criticizing AV for opening his comments on Saturday by saying he answers to his parents, his family his friends and to God by writing this:

“If God cares at all for him, he cringed.”

Really? This is acceptable? People at the same outlet where Marcus works were forced to resign for writing a headline during all the violent protesting – which is separate from the peaceful protesting – that said “Buildings Matter, Too.”

But this sentence is perfectly up to Inquirer standards?

But that wasn’t all. Because you see, in this time when we all need to be able to better identify systemic racism and white privilege – because it does exist, just not in the example used in this Inquirer column – then we can not have sentences written in columns condemning a coach for being tone-deaf to the world around him that read like this:

“Of course, this is predictable behavior for a 59-year-old white Canadian millionaire whose personal life was unaffected by the #BlackLivesMatter protests, spurred by the epidemic of Black Americans being killed by white cops and vigilantes, on on camera. AV had no skin in the game.”

Predictable behavior by 59-year-old white Canadian millionaires?

I guess there’s no prejudicial feelings behind those words, eh Inquirer?

He was unaffected by the protests?

How do we know? Was AV ever asked how this all affected him? Marcus could be right just as easily as he could be wrong. Has he, or anyone for that matter, ever asked Vigneault if this affected him in any way?

Or are we making yet another presumption?

Look, once this post goes live, Marcus and I are likely going to talk. I’m sure he won’t be happy with my post, and that’s fine. But I would like to talk to him. I feel like I can get perspective from him that I can’t get from journalists who look like me. I appreciate that. I respect that. I welcome that.

But that doesn’t mean his column was fair. Because it wasn’t.

And for all of the fans who came down hard on AV for this, keep in mind a few things – the man was honest. Heartfelt. Don’t just read the transcription. Watch the video linked above from Russ’ post yesterday. Watch him deliver his comments Saturday afternoon.

Here’s a coach who spoke truth. Honesty. He kept it real with you. He didn’t have some completely prepared statement that was written for him. Yes, a few of his sentences he read directly from his legal pad, but mostly he was going off of notes and telling his story.

He gave you a glimpse into his life in the bubble. He was unaware of the world around him. He admitted that. His words:

“I never bothered to ask or checked with anyone what was going on in the world or the NBA. I am guilty of that. I was totally focused on our next game.”

and later…

I am guilty of not checking up on what was going on in the world and in the NBA, but I am a good person. I believe in equality. I believe in social justice. I want to be part of the solution. I want to help society in any way I can.”

Why aren’t these comments used to identify that the coach is holding himself accountable? Why are we besmirching the character of a good man, and a good human being?

Also, keep this in mind, normally, the Flyers have public relations professionals, who are damn good at their jobs, around the team every day.

When there is a hot button issue or topic that they know the media is going to ask questions about, they are usually there to talk to players and coaches in advance and prepare them for what’s coming. Maybe even offer suggestions on the best way to answer these questions.

I know this. I’ve seen it first hand.

Guess what, the Flyers PR guys, just like every other team, are not allowed in the bubble. There are PR folks from the NHL and they are handling media requests and the like, but they aren’t providing the personal service that the team’s PR folks would to prevent something like this from happening.

So, we get this. We get a coach telling us the truth about his life living in a bubble.

And here’s the ultimate thing. He’s not compelled to have an opinion on anything. Or, if he has an opinion, he’s not compelled to share it publicly. Could be that he’s a private person. Could be that he’s not comfortable talking publicly about certain subjects.

That’s O.K., folks.

It doesn’t mean he’s indignant. It doesn’t mean he’s sanctimonious. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t agree with the hoi polloi. It just means that he’s a normal person, just trying to live his life quietly and do his job to the best of his ability.

And for that, he’s being vilified.

It makes me sick.

Speaking of being sick, I don’t have the strength after writing this post to really dive into Game 3. The Flyers lost 3-1. They looked bad for two periods in doing so. They now trail the series 2-1. Game 4 is tonight at 8PM on NBC. I’ll have opinions on the actual hockey on the Press Row Show tonight at 7:45 which streams live on the Crossing Broad Facebook page, my Twitter account through Persicope (@AntSanPhilly) and on the Crossing Broad YouTube page. I’ll get back to the deeper dives after Game 4.

For now though, I just need to walk away from my computer for a few hours. Thanks.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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