Election season kicks into full gear today with the Iowa caucuses, an occasion riddled with dispute, intrigue and the eternally raging debate of democracy’s precise place in this country. While the caucuses can be good indicators of a political party’s eventual Presidential candidate, they are by no means perfect, as peer pressure and community influence° can alter the outcome.
In this election season, it bears remembering that the purest form of democracy left in this nation, and possibly in the world, happens in sports. Leaving All-Star voting to the fans can cause some anomalies, not the least of which being that fans voted career enforcer John Scott to play in the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday. Unlike some of the new bosses we meet, who end up being same as the old boss, Scott did not disappoint the voters, nor did he leave any question about how deserving he was.
Okay, so here is the long and short of it: undrafted out of Michigan Tech, John Scott is a 33-year-old, 6’8″ defenseman better known for bruising checks and fighting than for, really, anything having to do with the more nuanced aspects of ice hockey. Beginning in 2008, Scott has played eight years in the NHL split between six teams and, as of this writing, doesn’t even have a place in the league, having been sent down to the AHL to play for the St. John’s IceCaps, Montreal’s minor league affiliate, after a trade from the Phoenix Coyotes.
A seemingly random online campaign – namely, the Twitter hashtag #VoteJohnScott – catapulted him to the top of NHL All-Star Game voting. Though Scott was publicly and predictably modest, deferring to players he saw as more deserving or fit of such an honor, he quickly gained the support of many in and out of the league. The campaign set up to be one of the more exciting things that any sport’s All-Star competition has ever seen.
When Scott won the fan vote and thus admission to the All-Star Game, the NHL attempted to pressure him to stand down and refuse his bid. From a league that is suspending other players from regular season games because they won’t show up for the All-Star Game due to illness or injury, this seems rather contradictory, to say the least. Wouldn’t the rationale with such a suspension be that the players skipping the game are the ones the fans want to see, and the league feels it would lose fan interest¹ for not having those players involved? Wouldn’t it then follow that it is in the best interest of the league to, you know, include the players the fans themselves voted into the game, no matter if the league views those players as deserving?
Scott penned a reflection in The Players’ Tribune outlining his feelings in the time up to his All-Star announcement. He never wanted to be an enforcer, but his size and strength pigeonholed him into a certain role which he has admirably filled for years. Finally, he would be able to claim something on his own terms. When the league allowed Scott to be an All-Star in spite of itself, the rest of us claimed a victory in the name of small hopes and dreams.
Not content simply to be present, Scott delivered a truly All-Star performance on Sunday, scoring two goals and being named the Most Valuable Player. Everyone wanted a shift with him. The crowd exploded into “MVP!” chants every time he touched the puck, a truly surreal display that ended in a rare payoff when Scott claimed the trophy. He was a hero, even if it was just for one day.
Pessimism has become such a norm in the political process that many of us yawn our way through elections, expecting empty promises to go unfulfilled while verbally carpet-bombing anyone with an opinion different from ours. That’s the joy and misery of democracy in a nutshell.
In the case of John Scott, however, we were lucky enough not to have an Electoral College decide who was fit for office. No matter your party line or personal political inclinations, this occasion seems fit for a cliché: as a showcase of direct democracy, a vote for John Scott truly was a vote for America, even if he, like the majority of the NHL, is Canadian. That he delivered on a promise he didn’t even make, well; isn’t that what makes this country great?
°In the Democratic caucus, voters must publicly state their choice. This is not the case for the Republican caucus, whose tinted window begs the question: What have they got to hide?