All too often, professional athletes are accused of biting the hands that feed them. Whether it's opposing ownership during a lockout or refusing to sign an autograph, they're criticized for not appreciating the people who make them rich.
Sometimes, however, it's the other way around. The same people wishing players were more accessible attack them the moment the players expose themselves.
Take the unfortunate Twitter incidents we've seen over the past few days. First was the trolling of Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer's wife, April, after his recent struggles. Armchair tough guys told April her husband "needed psychiatric help," that he was "garbage," and those are just examples of the tweets fit for print. April took the high road with this classy response:
Then came the James Neal blowup on Monday. The Pittsburgh Penguins made their sniper available for #AskNeal, an open session in which fans could ask him anything. In light of Neal's many run-ins with the NHL disciplinary system, including the $5,000 fine he received for cross-checking Luke Glendening March 20, the trolls had their way with Neal. What was Pittsburgh thinking? Examples included "There are 206 bones in the human body. How many have you used to hit people in the head?" and "What favorite memory have you robbed from one of the players you kneed to the head?" Neal was obviously drawing vitriol not just for the Glendening hit, but for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand last December.
The Neal hate is a bit more understandable considering his questionable on-ice actions, but it's still wrong. The Reimer attacks are particularly gutless, especially because he's such a nice guy. I can't speak for Neal because I haven't encountered him, but I once watched the Leafs practice on a Saturday morning and Reimer stayed in the stands by himself signing autographs with kids for a least half an hour. The truest form of benevolence is doing a good deed when you think no one is watching. I was the only one there and he didn't see me.
The incidents of the past few days certainly weren't the first, either. Fans attacked Ben Scrivens' wife when he was traded to Edmonton. The anonymity of tweeting is creating an alarming trend in which people having bad days can attack and publicly defame people they view as faceless.
If the incessant trolling continues, will players begin leaving Twitter? Why stick your neck out on a public forum when you attract so much hate? Or will the NHL step in and alter its social media rules? There's a precedent for that, like when the NFL banned tweeting during games.
What do you think the future of NHLers and Twitter holds? Status quo or major change? Let us know in the comments below. And I dare you not to troll, trolls.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin