CALGARY - If there was ever any doubt fans can have an impact, it was answered Tuesday when Calgary Flames players bowed to public pressure and agreed to do the right thing.
Spurred on by front page coverage in the Sun revealing the Flames players had decided en masse to skip the club’s charity golf tourney Thursday so some could attend players’ meetings in New York, a rather overwhelmed team player rep Matt Stajan announced their change of heart one day later.
A furious backlash by frustrated fans had everything to do with the decision to cease the senseless blanket policy and allow at least a handful of players in town to play and help raise upwards of $300,000 for local charities.
Right or wrong, the optics suggested millionaire players were essentially turning their collective backs on children and families in need. The Twitterverse exploded after the Sun broke the story, as already-frustrated fans lashed out at players for a senseless approach to a scheduling conflict that was handled poorly, as most players and prospects would be in town anyway.
Combine that with the looming lockout and the fan fury was predictable — unless you are a player, that is.
It was clear by Stajan’s uncomfortable response to the firestorm Tuesday, the decision wasn’t well-thought through as he had no idea the public would respond with such passion.
Keep in mind Stajan and his teammates have had the benefit of media relations staff shielding them for years and advising them on everything from how to act, what to say and how to avoid various controversies.
As Saturday’s lockout nears, Stajan and his teammates clearly didn’t have the benefit of such advice when the players took it upon themselves to inform the club late last week of their about-face after originally agreeing to be part of the tournament.
Stajan also could have used some better advice Tuesday when he suggested the whole thing was a “mix-up.”
To suggest there was a breakdown in communications, is to inadvertently throw the Flames’ public relations staff and the organization under the bus as it was made very clear to them the players wouldn’t be playing golf.
The right thing would have been for Stajan to simply take the bullet and admit openly he and his colleagues screwed up, saw the error in their ways, and would now make good on their original promise to send as many players as possible to Country Hills and the Links of GlenEagles for Thursday’s event.
That said, it’s hard to come down too hard on Stajan, as he and the players fixed the situation.
While many who paid upwards of $2,500 to rub shoulders with the players and prospects at Wednesday’s luncheon and Thursday’s round, it’s interesting to note only one sponsor took the club up on its offer of a full refund following news of the players’ initial withdrawal.
The financial shortfall was quickly replaced by another sponsor, which speaks to the spirit of a sold-out event that raised $340,000 for the Flames Foundation for Life last year.
As for any golfers who debated pulling out of the tourney, there was a massive waiting list of those gladly willing to pony up and take their place.
None of that is required now that sanity has prevailed and everyone involved will make the best of a scheduling conflict that has almost two-dozen players heading to New York for the Players’ Association’s hastily-called meetings, which are expected to draw 300 players.
“This wasn’t a case of boycotting because it’s a charity tourney or that they wanted to ‘send a message.’ They had a conflict,” said one sympathetic Flames staffer, who was relieved the episode is over.
“There was zero malice associated with it at all. That said, the idea of it being all or none is a tough call.”
The wrong call.
It has been righted.
Finally something the fans can cheer about, especially since it was largely their doing.