Vern Cooper and Putting Things In Perspective

“We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings.”
--Albert Einstein

I’ve been mulling this post over for a while, not really wanting to write it for various reasons and not really knowing how to write it.  For me (read: you don’t care), writing is cathartic.  For others, writing is a form of expression or way of conveying messages or making money, etc.  But, I find it to be an outlet to what I’m feeling.  Thus, the blog you see in front of you.  “No NHL in KC, well, by gosh, I will write a blog and that will make me feel better!” (/shakes fist aggressively).  That sort of thing, if that makes any sense.

That being said, I’m not writing this as a precept or profound teaching on life, nor is the epigraph above meant to convey that message (trivia: I’m not a very deep person).  Instead, I want to offer the story of recent-former Missouri Mavericks forward Vern Cooper as a counter example to a blog post I read over the summer by the writer formerly known as Will McDonald over at Royals Review.  Please read his post.  It’s depressing, but kind of true, but kind of not, thus the reason why this is a rebuttal, of sorts.
(Just as a side note, I do not know Vern nor do I have a full understanding of the reasons concerning his departure.  I can only make base inferences through research, prior examples, and personal introspective confusion.  That said, my assumptions about his future are just that, assumptions.)
(Update: If I did not make it clear, one main reason I did not want to write this is because, like Will, I did not want it to sound like a "This is what so-and-so teaches us about life" thing.  That type of thinking is not productive to the main point which I hope is clear.)  

If you haven’t yet heard, or don’t quite care (bear with me if you are of the latter opinion), Vern left the Mavs to pursue his academic opportunities at the ripe old age of twenty.  The reason Vern, an Ontario native, made his way to the friendly environs of the Kansas City metropolitan area is fairly simple.  The Canadian Hockey League (which contains the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and Ontario Hockey League), the main major-junior league in Canada which allows players as young as 16 to play, sets a rule that at nineteen a player must leave the league or join a team as an “overage” player (as in, over age; over the age of 19 in this case).  Cooper played five years in the CHL, played last year as an overager, went undrafted, and left Canada to pursue new opportunities in the hockey world.  Thus enter the Mavericks.

Many tough life decisions plague the life of an overager, though.  He doesn’t just get to pick a team and go from there.  A Toronto Sun article on the topic states, “An overage junior hockey player is unlikely to make the NHL. By that point, they should be playing in a mid- to low-level pro league, or considering another career and going back to school.”  I can imagine that is not a very encouraging thing to hear for most twenty year olds looking to make a splash in the hockey world.  In Vern’s case, he tried the semi-pro hockey circuit, but for whatever reason it is just not working out.  His career as a “hockey player” may be effectively over. 

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Vern will not lift Lord Stanley’s Cup above his head at center ice.  Whether or not this is clear to Vern yet does not matter.  He has already moved on for the time being.  But he is only doing what many before him have done, and what many after him will do as well.  Hockey was Plan A, and now it’s time for Plan B.  Luckily for him the CHL gives out plenty of awards in “scholarship”-type money, so it’s presumed money will not be much of an issue for his academic future.

So, is Vern a failure?  We all fail, and most of us never end up getting whatever it is we truly want.  Then again, what do we want?  To echo something Mr. McDonald said, “Our sense of perspective is seriously skewed.”  I agree wholeheartedly.  But, it is not so much our perspective of those who presumably have everything they ever wanted (in this case, professional sports players), which is something along the lines of, “This guy gets to play a children’s game for a living while making bank and livin’ the dream!”  No, it’s our perspective when it comes to self-analysis, which can easily become, “I have failed.  Boo me.”

Yes, we all fail, and at times, we all believe we suck and have nothing to offer the world, ourselves, or even those close to us.  We are but humans.  One could argue that those that are ever truly “successful” (the common definition of what we believe to be successful—wealth, fame, fortune, a great job, umm... a hot spouse...) never get to enjoy their success.  They always want more, or they are burdened with remaining relevant.  Humans want more, or something new, or a fresh start.  True, just by saying that does not make it a catch-all quality, but how often did you want the newest piece of technology, a raise, your lawn to be as well-manicured as your neighbor’s lawn, to go back to school, a better dental plan, and so on and so forth?  Success does not necessarily mean happiness, either.  South Park even teaches us that lesson

So, how often have you “failed” or “succeeded’?  If you are cynical like me, you have failed a lot, and believe you will continue to fail.  But then again, I have succeeded a lot, and I hope to succeed in the future.  Of course, failure does not mean you can just quit, but no one gets out of life alive either.  Yeah, sometimes life gets crappy and you start regretting things.  Without taking a poll, I would say most people regret or wish they could do something differently to some degree at some point in time in their lives.  But, what about the things and the times you would not trade for anything?  Mr. McDonald talks about people who set out to do something risky and failed.  Are they failures?  Yes, but because we all fail.  They just fell on their face harder than some of us.  But, what about the person “who ran away to Vail to be a ski instructor and ended up selling insurance in Pueblo three years and a divorce later”?  What if that person never took that chance?  Would they regret that choice years later?  What if they did not at least try?

I guess my main point is to look at your failures and successes, and then to look at your Plan Bs, like Mr. Cooper is doing. Vern may never be a NHL hockey player.  But, he did total 217 points in five seasons in the OHL.  Some might say that is a pretty awesome achievement before you hit legal drinking age.  Vern may never sign a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Bauer or Gatorade or Nike or whoever.  But he can become one hell of an investment banker.  Sure, that may not sound as fun, or even be his dream, but hey, at least he can provide food and shelter for his family.  He is just trying to do what is best for his future so that he can put himself in the best possible position in life.  And really, isn’t that what we all want to do?

For hockey fans in KC, our perspective is skewed.  KC does not have a NHL team while smaller American markets do (Nashville, Columbus, Buffalo, Raleigh).  Does this mean that we have failed as a hockey town?  Well, don’t tell me that, because I went to the MU-KU Border War game a few weeks ago and had a blast!  And that’s the point.  We had a NHL team long ago and it failed.  Fine.  Today, though, we have the Mavs, we have college games (and more games on the horizon), we have NHL exhibition games, we have NHLers running camps.  We do have a moderately vibrant hockey community in this city.  Look, I’m not saying to be thankful for what you have or whatever, nor am I trying to blow smoke up your butt and tell you that everything is sunshine and rainbows and we should all sit in a big circle outside of the Sprint Center and sing “Kumbaya.”  Sh*t happens, life gets to you, and you realize you aren’t hot sh*t in overtly painful ways sometimes. Sure, we don’t have what we want, and we may never again get what we truly want as a hockey community.  But, just like Vern, we can always look and hope for the best possible opportunities while supporting all forms of hockey in this city in the absence of our dream.

Feel free to disagree with that assessment in the comments, or show off your own opinions in the comments, if you feel so inclined.  In fact, it is your right to do so.

Here’s a video of Vern fighting Tyler Toffoli in an OHL game, because violence never fails to sustain us: