Let’s say you have a friend, who, for lack of any other name in the known universe, we will call Tom. Tom is a good guy. Tom helped build a playground once. Tom likes getting kids moving and teaching them the importance of exercise. Your buddy Tom, unfortunately, also has a propensity to get in fights. And when Tom gets in fights… Tom commits.
Every few months, Tom tells you and all his other friends that he’s going to change. That he wants to do the right thing and understands how rewarding it can be to stick to the straight and narrow. He wants to follow through. He wants to stop disappointing the people around him. And you hold your breath, because some small part of you believes he will follow through this time. But when it comes down to the wire, just like he’s done every other time, Tom picks the easy way out, leaving you looking like a douchebag and a half.
You feel miserable and, once again, he insists to you that he didn’t mean it. He didn’t intend to throw that punch that way (which, after multiple iterations of this hell simulation, you recognize as very different from “I didn’t intend to get in this fight”). He understands that he did you wrong and wants to fix it. And you say “okay, Tom, we know you’re better than this, just take the suspension they give you and take the time to really understand why you can’t do this again”.
But he doesn’t, as per usual, and you’re stuck with a metaphorical clown hat on because no one quite understands what his deal is and, by extension, yours.
I am here to tell you that this is not going to change. That clown hat is superglued to your head. This is his fourth hearing with the Department of Player Safety in one year. One year, folks. And he incurred this hearing because, you guessed it, outright violence is absolutely necessary in the second period of a preseason game — the last preseason game, in fact.
All the facts are on the table — this hit, even if you’re one of the surprisingly many people insisting it was shoulder to shoulder contact, did not need to happen. Tom Wilson, as much as he is given time and incentive and linemates that can redirect his physicality into occasional skill plays, is going to be back to normal operating procedure the first opportunity he has. Nowhere is this more obvious than his record of preseason hits — last preseason, he was suspended twice for hits against the Blues and missed the first four games of the regular season. As the Department of Player Safety is offering an in person hearing, which allows them to suspend him for more than five games, we can only assume he’ll miss more than that this season.
Let’s not miss the obvious truth in this: He’s a repeat offender and he’s escalating because the consequences he faces are essentially meaningless to him. He obviously learned nothing from the three game suspension he incurred this May for breaking Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw because here he is again, in DoPS’ headlights for another illegal check to the head.
The preseason doesn’t count so that that coaches can use it to organize their final lineup, test out rookies in an NHL setting (though not against full NHL lineups, in most cases), and see if their veterans are back up to snuff after a summer of hijinks. It cannot be used for that purpose if players are severely injuring each other, whether accidentally or on purpose. The preseason is for coaches as much as it’s for players and that makes Mike Yeo’s remarks on the Wilson hit (per Samantha J. Pell of the Washington Post) entirely merited — “It was predatory and that is what he’s done and he’s done that against us so that’s the way he plays the game and obviously again, like I said, we’ll see what the league does”. Yeo has lost a young player to what could be a significant injury (or injuries) over an unnecessary episode of Headhunters Not Anonymous, and while the Blues thankfully don’t have to worry about forward depth, thanks to the offseason additions of O’Reilly and Bozak, the Capitals are deservedly going to be starting the season one man down.
Tom Wilson is losing more than some people make in a year every game he’s suspended, but it’s pocket change to him. A five game suspension feels more like an undeserved, unearned week off to prepare for the season. He has not learned from his mistakes and shows no desire to do so. As fans, we want him to be a better person than he is, so we try to rationalize his actions in whatever way suits us, but what lies at the core of this is a fundamental truth of our society — consequences don’t exist for rich white men. And when the Department of Player Safety convenes on Wednesday morning to discuss whether the head contact was incidental or intentional, we all owe ourselves a long, hard think about how far we’re willing to go to defend someone who’s given his fans nothing but empty words.