PlayersTribune- I had to stop going to the grocery store this season.
For one reason or another, the grocery store has always been where I get recognized the most in Ottawa. I can hang out in pretty much any restaurant or bar and be in the clear, but at the grocery store I’ll pretty much always be spotted. For the most part, I’ve always enjoyed that. Engaging fans is one of the most rewarding things about making it to the NHL. But one thing you learn after playing in Canada for a while is that Canadian hockey fans are … honest.
I might be in the produce aisle squeezing a tomato or something when an elderly woman will approach me.
“Pardon, but are you Bobby Ryan from the Senators?”
I’ll perk up, clear my throat, and in my best I’m A Professional voice respond, “Yes ma’am, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
And without hesitating, she’ll go full beat-reporter on me, “You haven’t scored in a while, eh? Maybe you’re holding the puck too long at the point?”
After hearing that, I might set the tomato down (or maybe squeeze it harder, I’m not sure) before responding. My impulse will be to defend myself, so I’ll say something like, “Well, uh, yeah, I’ve been in a bit of a slump. But I managed to redirect a couple of pucks last game, and I think the goals are going to start comi—”
And that’s when I’ll stop myself and think, Why the hell am I talking about my job at the grocery store?
That type of scenario played out a lot this season. By the time I’d get home, my wife would be confused because I’d be super stressed-out from buying a couple of bags of groceries. Eventually she started doing the shopping. It was for the best, I suppose.
I don't think even the most head-in-the-clouds (i.e. up their own ass) fan is under some illusion that being a professional athlete is a "normal" job. It obviously comes with an amount of scrutiny that is unfitting considering the amount of talent they possess in comparison to their scrutinizers that will never begin to understand that talent. Now, they are certainly reimbursed quite nicely for playing a role that thanklessly shifts from city-wide savior to the general public's proverbial punching bag at a moment's notice. Still, that doesn't make the concept of wholly average people giving condescending tips to those that are astronomically more skilled any less odd.
Just imagine if this were something that happened to workers whose jobs are labeled with a colored collar on a regular basis. Think about leaving the office after having a shitty day and getting stopped by a member of the custodial staff. Then picture that janitor suggesting that you better maximize the efficiency of your spreadsheets by explaining something that was taught to them by an animated, talking paperclip in middle school.
I'm not trying to imply that playing in the NHL is anything less than absolutely awesome as the benefits of being a pro exponentially outweigh the cons, but we should acknowledge that potentially being reminded of your struggles at work while away from work is a massive fucking con. I would have traded places with Bobby Ryan before he became a postseason revelation, but I also would have used that tomato to treat an overeager elderly woman like she was bombing her comedy routine if she took a jab at my professional insecurities. I don't think people are good at taking criticism as much as there are just varying levels of bad. That being said - if not for entertaining us with abilities that will always be inherently underrated - athletes at least deserve credit for not being the worst when people with (mostly) good intentions insult them by critiquing their performance away from a job they could never, ever do.