Olympians are enjoying themselves, and so should you

Think about this, and think about it unselfishly and intelligently. Would an NHL player rather win a gold medal representing his country, or would he rather win a Stanley Cup for his city?

My guess is if you ask a player, the question would be extremely tough to answer. That’s the way it should be. The problem resonating through the debate whether or not NHL players should be allowed to participate in the Olympics is this: We know how the players feel, and we ignore it.

NHL owners who dole out millions of dollars to field a team each season are rightfully concerned with their investments playing in non-NHL competition mid-season. Fans who shell out large amounts of cash to support their team have every right to gasp at the thought of a star player falling victim to injury during the Olympics — especially if their team is a legit Cup contender.

Media, such as the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh, disagree with the NHL allowing it’s players to compete in the Olympics and note fans’ uneasiness due to the risk of injury. It’s a fact — a player getting hurt in the Olympics could severely damage a team’s Stanley Cup hopes. I’m a Blackhawks season-ticket holder. If Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa or Tomas Kopecky  come back to Chicago injured, I’ll be pissed. There’s no getting around that.

My opinion? So what. And here’s why.

The NHL is the only pure international league of North America’s four major sports. While the NBA, NFL and MLB all have international players competing, they are leagues featuring games born in the United States. The central focus of each sport is in the U.S., despite each being played around the world at minimal levels of competition, and on the league itself.

The players feel the same way. They’re main purpose isn’t to compete internationally against inferior competition for the sake of doing so. That’s why NBA players turn down invitations to play in international competition, why football has never been an Olympic sport and why baseball was booted as a 2012 Olympic event. There’s little to no demand for these sports to feature international competition. It shows in how the World Baseball Classic has flopped.

I believe fans and media get caught up in “The American way,” so to speak, of sports when it comes to hockey. But hockey players are different. They grow up playing international competition, and hockey is truly played competitively throughout the world. If NHL players want to represent their country, let them do it.

That is exactly the point. They want to play. They compete against NHL teammates for roster spots in camps during the off-season to participate in the Games. No governing body of a centralized sports league should ever be allowed to take that away from them. If they didn’t want to play, they’d turn down the invitation. Plain and simple.

For a country of fans constantly wishing star players would be more passionate about the game they play, we’re sure quick to judge when a player shows his true desire for winning and competition. While the timing of the Olympics may not be perfect in relation to the hockey season, each and every competitor is playing for their true love for the game and their country. It should never be taken away from them.

I do understand the concerns, I really do. But aren’t we just being selfish? These guys are human beings, not property. No owner, no fan, no media member should ever question their passion and desire to represent their country in the game they love.

The Olympians are enjoying themselves, and you should enjoy watching the greatest hockey players in the world compete against each other for the next two weeks.

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