March 20, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Don't Moralize the Hobey

With Kristo a Frontrunner, the Debate Looms Again

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

In our new list of Hobey hopefuls, we put North Dakota senior forward Danny Kristo at the top. Mind you, the list is agonizing this year. So many players have credentials that are so close to each other, sorting it out was really an exercise in futility.

But if Kristo is still in the running in a couple of weeks, we are destined to have another "character" debate. And, on that, we should be wary.

As mentioned in the article, Kristo had previous legal trouble that is a red flag for some Hobey voters. For a case study, we need look no further than two years ago, when North Dakota teammate Matt Frattin was a Hobey finalist, but lost to Miami's Andy Miele.

The details of the respective players' legal problems are somewhat apples and oranges. Frattin had a couple of run-ins, some vandalism and an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, but was never actually convicted of anything. Kristo was involved in a relatively lesser offense — at a pre-season team party last September, he was arrested for serving alcohol to minors (i.e. other members of the team) — but pleaded guilty a few weeks ago to a misdemeanor.

Either way, it gives opportunity for the moralizers among us to deny him the Hobey, if they are so inclined. And I can tell you, many are so inclined. There is no doubt that the reason Frattin lost is that enough of the 30 voters refused to vote for him because of the legal issues.

Me? That year was my first on the committee, and this is my third and final year. And I will vote with the same mindset this year as I did then: If Kristo is still No. 1 on our list after the Regionals, I can assure you I'll be voting for him — just as I did for Matt Frattin two years ago.

The Hobey criteria is laid out vaguely, in an attempt to pay homage to its namesake. Hobey Baker was by all accounts a gentleman, who famously took just one penalty in his career, and apologized. The Hobey committee intentionally gives no guidance to voters on how they should apply the "character" criteria, leaving it up to everyone to decide.

If someone genuinely thought Andy Miele was a better player than Matt Frattin in 2010-11, then so be it. I disagreed, but so be it. But that's better than making a decision based on phony moralizing, and I fear we may be headed in that direction again.

For one, voters should perhaps reflect more thoughtfully on the issue of "character." Was it bad character for Frattin to get arrested twice? Sure. But how would you define his character after he straightened his life out, came back to North Dakota instead of taking the easy way out with a pro contract, and graduated?

Likewise, does anyone excuse Kristo's transgressions? No. But I do know he is a solid student, one who also has spurned pro offers in order to play four years at North Dakota and graduate, an exceeding rarity in this day and age.

But, for me, it goes beyond that details of these particular cases. I have been very consistent over the years in situations that draw public attention. You can go back to articles I've written on the Penn State case, or the Vermont hazing scandal. People love to over-moralize and grandstand on issues, just to claim moral superiority.

It's the easy way out, and requires no thought.

Society is too quick to judge the character of people they don't really know, based on isolated facts. Do we know that everyone else is an angel because they've never been caught for something? Maybe they are, but we don't know that either.

It's hard enough deciding which player is better than the other. But I sure as heck am not going to judge which is a better person than the other.

I recall in 2011, North Dakota fans implored sports writers not to forget that fellow finalist Cam Atkinson also had an arrest on his record, something his father was closely involved in, too. Oh, the venom if you failed to mention that in the same breath as Frattin's issues.

But that shouldn't have been the issue either. And during that year's Hobey ceremony, it was revealed that Atkinson's dad helps run a foundation with U2 singer Bono that donates tens of millions of dollars to AIDS relief in Africa. No one knew that, until after the votes were counted.

The point being, we can never really know these people that well. Good or bad.

So barring any major ongoing issues, I believe it's best to put all that to the side, and just vote for what we see on the ice. There's a Humanitarian Award for a reason. It's an awesome award.

A frat boy mentality should be discouraged in all collegiate sports. But dismissing a player because of "character issues" that seem to be isolated, is another case in a long line of societal grandstanding, and should be avoided.

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