Not content to cast himself as just another dismissive, tone-deaf, middle-aged white man, which he did Thursday, Alain Vigneault on Saturday cast himself as a victim.
Where have we heard this before?
All Vigneault had to say before his team played Game Three of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday night was: “Look, I should have been better prepared for Thursday’s press conference, and I said some insensitive things, and I support what the players and leagues are doing.”
Then it’s over. Then he’s just another hockey coach who said something dumb. But AV, like most of those afflicted with the insidious, often asymptomatic disease of White Male Privilege, has his pride. That disease will not let you back down. So, he flexed.
The Flyers coach arrived at his noon virtual press conference with five pages of a prepared statement that might have been prepared by his worst enemy. It was. Himself.
In it, Vigneault, 59, never uttered a word of solidarity or support for his own players, for the NHL, or for athletes all over the world, many of whom, since a teenage gunman allegedly killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday, have boycotted games and practices to protest the epidemic of police brutality and vigilantism that affects communities of color.
Instead, the statement concerned how Alain Vigneault had been smeared. How Alain Vigneault had been misrepresented. How Alain Vigneault’s feelings were hurt.
Two days late.
I like Vigneault. I respect what he’s done in Philadelphia and in his career. He’s smart and tough and polished. But, as we witnessed twice this week, he’s not perfect.
Dripping with self-righteousness, he scolded those who doubted his truthfulness when he said, on midday Thursday, that (unbelievably) he was ignorant of the boycotts that swept through sports Wednesday.
Drenched with indignation, he thanked those who had supported him in the previous 48 hours; and then, with dramatic sarcasm, he wished well those who’d criticized him.
And, drowning in sanctimony, Vigneault invoked his friends, his parents, and God as those who are fit to judge him.
If God cares at all for him, He cringed.
Then, after 4 minutes, 30 seconds of weird self-defense, AV left the dais without taking a single question.
Questions such as: Why did it take him 48 hours to address his comments from Thursday?
Questions such as: Exactly what did he think now about the NHL on Thursday postponing its slate of games and workouts for two days, following the lead of the NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and 10 NFL teams?
Questions such as: Did he believe the delay between Wednesday’s game and Saturday’s game would affect his team?
These are questions that would hold Vigneault accountable. However, protected by social distancing, by the NHL (which was unaware that he would issue his ill-conceived speech), and by the power of being a head coach, Vigneault refused to face any accountability other than his own. He ran away.
There are those who will applaud Vigneault for “defending himself.” Well, every shepherd needs sheep. This moment is much bigger than Vigneault, or his team, or the game. At least his players realize that.
This is disappointing behavior for a man whose demand for accountability completely changed the culture of the hockey team in his first season as Flyers coach.
This is remarkable behavior for a man who has fearlessly benched Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton.
Of course, this is predictable behavior for a 59-year-old white Canadian millionaire whose personal life was unaffected by the #BlackLivesMatter protests, spurred by the epidemic of Black Americans being killed by white cops and vigilantes, often on camera. AV had no skin in the game. Not until his team informed him that it was boycotting Game Three on Thursday. Then it became all about Me.
“My honesty, integrity, my social commitment, for some reason, has been pushed to the forefront,” Vigneault said. The reason: What you said is not only implausible, it’s irresponsible. If nothing else, Vigneault is not irresponsible.
Vigneault then recounted a timeline in which he defended his ignorance of the most pressing American social issues in decades – issues that had brought sports to a virtual standstill – by saying that, after being made aware of other leagues’ boycotts Wednesday evening, he simply declined to research the matter.
After the Flyers won Game 2 on Wednesday afternoon, “I picked up some food, had a martini, and went to my room to work,” he said, then recounted every moment of the next 20 hours.
Vigneault said that by his noon press conference Thursday, after Vigneault had interacted with, at a minimum, his coaching staff, drivers, servers, and league medical personnel, virtually every news outlet was leading with the specter not only of temporary boycotts but of possible full shutdowns. NHL teams were discussing not playing, including his own team. To believe that no player, no coach, no team official, and no one else mentioned to Vigneault that his world was burning down around him is, for me, a bridge too far.
Believe him if you like.
I do believe this:
“I am for equality. I am for social justice. I am a good person. I believe in equality. I believe in social justice. I want to be part of the solution. I want to help society in any way I can.”
He could have said all that Thursday evening, after the boycotts were finalized, and as his own image was being torched. He could have said that Friday, when four Flyers spoke to the press. But Vigneault did not. He could have just released a statement, for goodness’ sake.
Then, as though he’d not done quite enough to paint himself as a caricature of boomer-ism, Vigneault actually chastised anyone who’d had the audacity to be offended by his missteps of the previous two days.
“We all have our part to do moving forward to help society fix these issues. Maybe we can all start by being good to one another,” he said.
Let’s be real here. You can understand Vigneault’s frustration: He seems to have tried to be a forthright and decent man his whole life, and now, after a few lazy words in perhaps the biggest moment of his life, he has been cast as being, at best, indifferent to racism.
You can even understand his condescending tone, and the fact that he refused to take questions. He’s been a coach at some level for almost 35 seasons, most of them as head coach. Coaches are authoritarian, so they stand interrogation poorly, and avoid it completely if possible. The best coaches – and Vigneault is among the best – are accustomed to speaking with a voice that demands obedience.
He uses that voice to teach lessons.