Political establishment can learn a few things from hockey's all-star enforcer

Marc A. Thiessen

By Marc A. Thiessen

Published Feb. 2, 2016

Does this scenario sound familiar? In a popular uprising, voters rally behind an insurgent outsider candidate. The establishment panics and tries to quash the outsider's campaign. But voters are undeterred, rallying around their candidate by the tens of thousands and leading him to an upstart victory.

Bernie Sanders? Donald Trump?


I'm talking about a professional hockey player named John Scott.

For those who don't follow hockey, Scott is a National Hockey League enforcer who was elected in a grass-roots revolution as captain of the Pacific Division team in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.

Scott's not the kind of player you normally see at the league's annual skills competition. He's what known in the hockey world as a "goon." In nine NHL seasons, he had just five goals and six assists - not exactly an all-star record. But fans love players like Scott for the grit he brings to the game. And the other all-stars love players like Scott because he's the guy on the ice who keeps them safe when other teams cross the line trying to stop them from scoring. Mess with superstar Patrick Kane, and you get to meet John Scott - up close and personal.

When the grass-roots campaign to elect him an all-star captain began, Scott had a very un-Trump response. He urged fans not to vote for him, saying there were more deserving players. His humility only inspired the fans to rally around him all the more. When it became clear he was going to win, Scott said he was pressured by the league to turn the honor down. In a moving article for the Players' Tribune, Scott recalls: "They didn't mince words - 'This is not a game for you, John' - but I understood all the same. Honestly, on some level, I agreed. . . . One of the reasons I've made it as long as I have in the league is because I specifically know I'm not an All-Star."

Then came the words that changed his mind. Scott said a league official asked him: "Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?"

"That was it, right there. That was the moment they lost me," he writes. The league had crossed the line. You might say it was not treating him "fairly."

Scott decided to play. But then came an unexpected setback: He was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens, who promptly sent him to the minor leagues. Now the league had a pretext to stop him: How could Scott play in the NHL All-Star Game when he wasn't even playing in the NHL? But as fan outrage grew, the league establishment finally woke up and figured out that it was alienating its own base. It listened to the voice of the people and did the right thing.

Long story short, John Scott played in the All-Star Game Sunday night. On the ice with the league's elite in an unforgiving three-on-three format, Scott's detractors expected him to embarrass himself. Instead, the opposite happened. Scott scored two goals. Every time he hit the ice, the building erupted into chants of "MVP! MVP!" He captained his team to victory, and the fans spoke once again - voting him in as a write-in candidate for the game's most valuable player. The superstars hoisted him on their shoulders and skated him around the ice in triumph. And his kids were never more proud of their dad.

There's a lesson here. Many Americans, like hockey fans, are in an anti-establishment mood. And they are expressing their frustrations at the polls. On the left and right, they are rallying around candidates like Sanders and Trump precisely because they do not "belong" in the political all-star game.

We'll soon find out whether Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump has a John Scott moment tonight in Iowa. Even if they do, it may not last. On Monday morning, the NHL All-Star Game MVP was headed to remote Newfoundland to join his minor league team. But in sending John Scott to the All-Star Game, NHL fans sent a clear message to the establishment: You don't run this show. We do.

The hockey establishment finally got the message. It's time for the political establishment in Washington to do the same.

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