by Mike Chen on 09/19/08 at 01:27 PM ET
Point #1: Nothing brings out the anger in a sports fan like betrayal. Just ask a Ducks fan what he thinks of Paul Kariya, or listen to an Oilers fan spout off about Chris Pronger. It ain’t pretty.
Point #2: Nothing amplifies a sports fan’s passion like patriotism. Sports generally remains free of the political arena and acts as a uniting force for fans despite their political leanings.
Which brings us to young Alexander Radulov. It’s time to give him a history lesson because if he does return to the Nashville Predators, he’s going to be under fire for both points #1 and #2. Alex, I suggest you examine the sad, strange tale of a fallen American hero named Sergeant Slaughter .
First off, let’s examine just what Radulov has done. Here’s a guy that was banked on to be a franchise cornerstone for Nashville that, under while still under contract, flipped the bird to his team, his city, and North America to go back to his home country of Russia and their start-up KHL. Now, no one’s gonna fault a guy for wanting to play where he grew up but breaking contractual obligation is a big no-no. That’d break the heart of any fan right then and there. But to go outside of the family and do it overseas…and then talk of wanting to come back?
Bring on the boo birds.
Now, let’s examine the case of Sergeant Slaughter. The good Sarge was so much a piece of Americana (at least for kids growing up in the 80s) that he was part of a cartoon with the subtitle A Real American Hero where he beat the crap out of masked terrorists that parachuted out of jets when the going got tough. He had a strange gravely drawl, a huge beer gut, and a chin that would make Jay Leno envious, but damn it, he fought for America and GI Joe and the good professional wrestlers in the then-WWF.
Sarge bled red, white, and blue until one fateful day when he met the vile Colonel Mustafa (who used to be the Iron Sheik) of Iraq (not coincidentally, that same day Vince McMahon decided to cash in on a storyline tangentially involving the first Gulf War). That day, Sarge’s heart (and his script) felt a different calling—a need to break away from the good ol US of A and support dictator Saddam Hussein and the country of Iraq. Mustafa and Slaughter wreaked havoc across the WWF landscape, spewing anti-American propaganda from their pulpit of Saturday morning wrestling shows.
Only one man knew how to combat this, and he even came with his own theme music that proclaimed that yes, this dude was a real American. That man was none other than future game-show host and father of the year Hulk Hogan. Through the power of Hulkamania, Slaughter’s allegiances to Iraq were chipped away over the course of two pay-per-view events. In the end, Slaughter began to appeal to the young fans of the WWF, begging and pleading about how he wanted his country back.
The moral of this story? You can backstab your country, you can insult your fans, you can wave the flag of the country we’re at war against…and with enough groveling, you’ll be accepted back.
Some Nashville fans will hate Radulov for breaking his contract. Others will hate him for leaving the NHL for money. Others still will take the vitriol of both and spew venom at the kid.
This will be a test to see how thick Radulov’s skin is. If he does come back to the Preds and he plays well, all will be forgiven in a few weeks. If he struggles in any fashion, I gotta think the boo birds will be relentless, along with “Go back to Russia!” signs and general jeering. If he can fight through that and prove his worth, Radulov could maybe, just maybe find the same level of redemption as one Sergeant Slaughter.
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