Last Friday @YahooPuckDaddy posted an article by hockey writer Ryan Lambert (@twolinepass) that referred to Boston Bruins forward Gregory Campbell as dumb and stupid. The incident in question that spawned the rhetoric occurred during game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. A pivotal game that saw the Bruins take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series as opposed to a very different 2-1 series lead if they had lost. With his team shorthanded, Campbell, as so many hockey players do, went down to block a shot. The shot ricocheted hard off Campbell's leg. He was in noticeable pain. Despite the clear agony, Campbell rose to his skates and played another minute of the penalty kill and his team was able to clear the puck as they warded off the Pittsburgh attack.
What we learned after the fact was that Campbell suffered a broken leg on the play. A broken leg and yet he was able to muster up the courage to get up and do his best to ignore the pain and sacrifice for his teammates. Even in a game that prides itself on a team-first mentality this selfless act was remarkable. The Bruins are now in the Stanley Cup Finals. Although Campbell received plenty of praise, Lambert disagreed with most, writing the following:
"Oh, the plaudits for Gregory Campbell after he broke his leg blocking a shot and stayed on the ice. So brave. So meritorious. Gutting out a broken fibula and even trying to poke-check the point man. It doesn't get tougher than that.
It also doesn't get stupider than that."
Lambert's article went on to become a larger "safety in hockey" piece that could have stood alone without oddly scapegoating Campbell to draw attention to a below average article. However, without making such a ridiculous statement Lambert's Twitter account would not have received the attention it did, which is really the most important part of writing. Lambert then took his act to Twitter where he retweeted multiple negative comments directed at him for what he said. Lambert is a hockey writer. The irony is profound.
What I, along with many other sports fans, saw from Campbell was a brief moment of what makes athletes at the professional level so revered. Their boundaries of physical and mental exertion extend far beyond that of a normal person. They have a distinct ability to sacrifice their well being in favor of accomplishing their goals. As a result they are able to perform acts that leave fans awestruck. For this they should be celebrated. And in those rare moments where an athlete fights through pain and suffering and with all the odds stacked against them they still come out victorious, that athlete should receive praise and well deserved respect.
Campbell played on a broken leg for over a minute. Brave, gutsy, courageous are words that should come to mind. Not dumb and stupid. Although he wasn't aware his leg was broken (no one watching, including the refs, could have been) the pain he was suffering would have been enough to make even the toughest athlete crumble. What Campbell did know was that if he stayed down his teammates would have had to play without him against a star-studded Pittsburgh power play. Refusing to let this happen Campbell fought through and emerged victorious. His teammates did their part by winning that game and the next, pulling off a sweep of the top seeded Penguins.
It wasn't a "tough guy" mentality that made Campbell stand up. It was the mentality of a professional athlete. It was the mentality of an individual who understands and appreciates the value and importance of sacrifice. A quick look around any playoff locker room in any sport will tell you just where that team is at in a season. In the playoffs athletes are bandaged, bruised, beat up and tired. Their bodies are in agony and yet the look in their eyes is more focused than ever. They can block it all out because they know what lays ahead -- a chance for glory.
When it comes to putting one's physical well being on the line for their team, hockey players stand at the top of the list. This is not rooted in a desire for individual accolades. Hockey players shy away from the spotlight and place an emphasis on a team game and team success. They take pride in standing up for one another and doing their job no matter how ugly it may get. Gregory Campbell lives by this code. If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup that minute where Campbell put everything on the line will be the defining minute of their entire season. That minute embodies everything that makes a hockey player a hockey player and what it takes to win in a game that few could muster up the courage to play.
For those that consider this level of bravery an indication of a lack of intellect maybe sports just isn't for you. To the athletes of the world please continue to push yourselves. Continue to take things to new heights and astonish us. Continue to provide us with moments like Campbell did. Us fans thank you for it.