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Ron MacLean (Greig Reekie)
Ron MacLean (Greig Reekie)

Biases and prejudices Add to ...

Matt Sekeres writes: We all view the world through our own life experience. We all trust that little piece of us when the door to the jury room closes, when the precise truth is unknown.

In Tuesday's Globe, MacLean admits that his 23 years as a hockey official sway him. He is prone to err on the side of NHL officials such as Stephane Auger, not the side of complainants such as Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows.

That's important context - and MacLean is big on context, as his 11-minute Burrows segment proved. Consider it the next time he tackles officiating between periods.

More often than not, MacLean's arrow splits the apple. Almost always, he is the sober second thought on Saturday nights. He has nine Geminis, meaning he owns the award and loans it out when he's feeling charitable.

But in light of circumstantial evidence that supports his player, Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault issued a public challenge of MacLean's work early Sunday morning (ET), wondering how he could be so dismissive of Burrows (he of many indiscretions), and so convinced by Auger (he of the light playoff resume).

The answer, as MacLean revealed in a round of interviews Monday, rests in his life experience. It's his striped shirt gathering dust in the closet, and his member's card to the door in every NHL arena marked "Absolutely No Admittance."

Journalistically, MacLean failed to believe in the power of idiocy because the story hit close to the zebra print. Auger had too much to lose, he argued, he couldn't possibly have carried out a pregame threat on Burrows.

The news is filled with tales of idiocy, irrationality, and otherwise good humans doing and saying very stupid things. MacLean, however, has been an arbiter above corruption, and in this case, he chose to believe that Auger is exactly like him.

That was his starting point Saturday. That's what was evident in two conversations Monday. That was his bias.

*****

With the theme set, let's dig for more bias. MacLean was brave enough to answer the accountability bell, the Globe's protocols demand nothing less.

For starters: my biases were explored this week by an NHL loyalist, who wanted to know: how long have I lived in Vancouver? Where was I born and raised? What teams did I support growing up? Answers: a) two years; b) Montreal and Ottawa; c) too many to name, never the Canucks.

Rather than pass the baton, let's throw a high fastball at French Immersion blogger Sean Gordon, who has yet to weigh in on L'affaire A-B.

Both M. Auger and M. Burrows are Francophones from Montreal, so M. Gordon's usual biases do not apply (perhaps that's why he has been slow with a whistle?). While it is unknown whether M. Gordon ever officiated, both he and M. Burrows are the products of Anglophone fathers and Francophone mothers, and both are union men.

Aha! Now that we know his biases, where does F.I. stand? And if it is with Burrows, how could he possibly defend that most-biased position? ***** Sean Gordon responds: So what's all this then, a gauntlet thrown from Lotusland?

Sekeres is cruising for a spot of handbags at 50 paces, is he? Well okay then.

French Immersion doesn't shy from an argument.

And the fact we haven't weighed in on l'affaire Burrows-Auger has less to do with disdain at wading into a Franco-on-Franco disputes (I've covered Quebec politics on and off for a dozen years after all) than it does with a feeling we didn't have much to add.

But now that we have a pretext to jump in, let's slide in with our cleats showing. Thanks Matt!

Our biases are pretty evident, and I wish I could say that I'm not tempted to take Burrows's side on this, but alas that would be a porkie pie. It's frustrating that Sekeres has exposed me as being so predictable, but what are you going to do?

My stance has less to do with his family history (although I have a natural bias in favour of my fellow bi-culturalists), goodness knows there's enough tribalism and identity politics in Quebec as it is.

Nope, I'm going to side with Burrows for a couple of reasons: firstly, the facts tend to support his allegations, and secondly, I've seen a bunch of Auger-refereed games in the past couple of years, and without calling his professionalism into question, let's just say mistakes were made.

To reprise a theme that emerged from the Globe hockey podcast - scroll on if you've heard it - we seem to be talking way too much about what was said, and way too little about what was done.

Fact: Auger took the time skate around the ice with Burrows for 31 seconds before the game, speaking to him avidly. Even arch-defenders like former NHL ref Ron Fournier, who has become a broadcasting titan in Quebec, says that wasn't a good idea.

Fact: Auger called Burrows for three penalties, including one of the five worst interference calls of all time - that one cost the Canucks the game.

So did Auger threaten Burrows, or say he felt embarrassed by his antics - and there have been plenty ? I don't know, and it's not especially relevant.

He shouldn't be judged on what he said or didn't say, he should be judged on what he DID.

Will I be accused of having a negative bias against refs? I've yelled at a few in my time - and yes Sekeres, I have reffed a few times, but never in organized hockey. Still, they are underappreciated and essential actors in any sport, they have a hard, thankless job. My problem is with bad refs, or officials who make obvious mistakes and have trouble owning up to them. The best refs are essentially invisible.

I have no doubt that Burrows is a horrible pain in the posterior, and that he's the kind of hot-blooded niggly player that makes most of the hockey world hate him (and Steve Ott, and Jarko Ruutu and several others). But it doesn't mean he's always wrong.

I think it's fair to accuse the MacLeans of the world of a failure of imagination. Auger would never say something like that, goes the meme, because there's too much at stake.

Okay, let's assume he said nothing as a conscientious zebra ought to do. The plain truth is he did plenty.

Hockey tends to be a hidebound game, dominated by its long-held orthodoxies, and the same culture that creates autocratic refs also protects them through thick and thin. Having someone like MacLean use his bully pulpit to do a long segment to dissect Burrows' transgressions flows from that. It would be nice if they had a best-of-Auger segment with, say, Jeremy Roenick doing the commentary.

So I guess you can also accuse me of a negative bias against skewed analysis and stultified institutions that not only resist change, but more often than not take it out back and give it a good shoe-ing.

To say nothing of a bias against organizations that don't embrace full transparency - will we ever hear from Stephane Auger?

All this obscures something else: the NHL has a growing problem with officiating. Longtime refs are retiring, and the players aren't shy of saying privately that they're unimpressed with their replacements. The problem is consistency, they say.

Part of it is whining from players and screeds from bloggers and journalists who have a basic bias against authority (we plead guilty).

But make no mistake, it's corrosive as long as it keeps getting swept under the rug.

 

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