I watched the giant firestorm (1, 2, 3) that erupted in the aftermath of the Team Japan – Team Canada game at Worlds this past summer and felt like it was actually good for the health of Spirit of the Game. SotG is dependent on the relationships between players, teams and community. Here was an example of a team making mistakes (which happens) and the community holding them accountable for it. Even more impressive, Furious issued an apology and worked to change some of the problematic elements of their game.
I had a chance to catch up with Morgan Hibbert and Mark Seraglia at NW Regionals. It was immediately clear from that conversation that Furious (like all teams) is divided internally about how SotG should be managed and this situation in particular. Both Morgan and Seraglia were completely willing to own up to their mistakes in that game. Hibbert said, “We felt that the Japanese were cheating us, so we had to have a temper tantrum. It was dumb and I immediately snapped out and was glad I hadn’t hurt that guy [after backpacking him].” (Italics added.) Within their contrition was a blasé been-there-done-that approach to their mistakes that many, many club players carry. When you play as long as these guys have, you are going to screw up sometimes and you have to find a way to live with it. This blasé attitude is why club SotG is better than college SotG; no one gets too worked up because they’ve seen it all before. It is clear that not everyone on the team feels this way. When I asked Morgan and Seraglia about the apology Furious issued in response to the situation, they said it “was something the media and outreach guys thought we needed to do, so they just did it” without consulting with the team as a whole.
Furious had actually begun making changes to their approach to SotG prior to Worlds. The biggest change they were trying to make was to contain the “yapping from the sidelines” and the us-against-the-world mentality that had propelled Furious for so many years. The main impetus for the change was not the Canada-Japan game, but the ongoing transformation of Furious following the Lugsdin-Grant-Cruikshank years. All during that period, Furious would use an opponent’s call or reaction to get their sidelines and teams riled up and emotionally driven. This would bring a two-part jab: a huge hate-dump on their opponent and greatly increased intensity on defense. (During those years, part of my job with Sockeye was to act as a lightning rod to absorb the hate-dump and shield the rest of the team.) Furious was moving away from this strategy because it was no longer “was helping the team.” As the team personnel transformed due to retirement and recruitment, what had been effective now was detrimental and a change was needed.
I wonder about the long-term impact on SotG and Furious. For SotG, it is a benefit. After we get over the knee-jerk reaction of “Spirit is broken, we need refs” the long term impact will be proof that the community as a whole can help teams and individuals do what is right. Peer pressure matters. Think it doesn’t? The dirty looks, people turning away from you in conversations, the nasty little remarks….these things add up. It is no surprise that periodically individual teams develop really bad SotG – their internal and community peer pressure is broken. There were some aspects of this incident that really trouble me. The attacks on Team Canada were very nasty and very personal. Both Morgan and Seraglia recieved multiple personal emails attacking them and their actions in that game. To me, that crosses a line.
For Furious, they are still a team in transition. This transition is happening both with their play and with their internal psyche. Like any team in transition, they can play incredibly inconsistently, as was witnessed at NW Regionals when they played terribly on Saturday and then redeemed their weekend by crushing Voodoo and edging Rhino on Sunday, but even that was tinged by controversy. As Seraglia said at the end of the interview, “We’re the same cheaters we’ve always been. And mention my shit-eating grin.”
Clarification: In the rush at the end of our interview (the Rhino game was starting) I had misconstrued the sequence of events that led to the apology to Team Japan. I had a chance to speak with Morgan Hibbert via email today. He clarified the situation, “Initially we decided we weren’t going to respond but after some time Alex Davis approached me about wanting to write something. After him and I conferred I then made the final call that we would write something.”
Feature photo by Neil Gardner – nzsnaps.com