There is a room tucked away in most arenas that has long seemed like a funny throwback to a much earlier time. It usually has a simple sign outside that says something like Players’ Wives’ Room, but the label is unnecessary: between the lounge chairs and the parked baby strollers and the assorted children’s toys strewn about, it is fairly clear that it is not a meeting room or a high-priced luxury suite.
The idea that there is this specific place for women to gather while their husbands are at work feels of another era, the modern version of the parlour where the ladies gathered while the menfolk smoked cigars and conducted serious business.
But it’s also a reminder that, for as much as athletes can be treated like fungible assets, they are actual people with personal lives and families and all that can entail. It’s a point that was blown into the open in about the most awkward way possible this week with the news that Meilinda Karlsson, wife of star Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik, has applied for a peace bond that alleges serial online harassment by Monika Caryk, the girlfriend of Mike Hoffman, his Sens teammate.
There are many caveats to note with this story. None of the allegations have been tested in court; and the peace bond, which dates to early May, still has not been served on Caryk herself. Hoffman and his agent, Robert Hooper, both denied to the Ottawa Citizen that Caryk was behind the online harassment, which Melinda Karlsson alleges included death wishes and accusations of drug use that led to the Karlssons’ first child being stillborn in March. Erik Karlsson himself replied to that anonymous Instagram comment by suggesting that he knew the author had been harassing him and his wife “for months” but that “this is an all new low even for you. You are a disgusting person.”
The Senators are investigating, as are Ottawa Police.
Fans of just about any team have probably heard stories about affairs and love triangles that have led to locker-room strife. Often these rise to the apocryphal and not much more, but anytime a fight between teammates breaks out in practice, one of the early theories is usually that there is a woman involved. Or gambling debts.
Rarely, though, has something quite so ugly spilled out, especially with the added twist of social media being the forum for the behaviour in question. It’s a most modern of sports stories, with someone allegedly using the presumption of anonymity granted by an Instagram account with a fake name to target a victim with a public profile. If the posts and comments are linked back to Caryk — stating again for the record here that the Hoffman camp denies she is behind them — then it would be the second time in less than a week that social media behaviour had a potentially franchise-altering impact on the fortunes of a professional sports team. Last week it was Barbara Bottini, the wife of Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, who was identified as the author of hundreds of Twitter posts, on anonymous accounts, that defended her husband, and occasionally criticized his players and divulged team secrets. What started out as a funny story about a thin-skinned executive turned grim when it turned out Colangelo’s wife was just trying to stand up for him. He lost his job and was not particularly appreciative of her efforts.
But the ugliness of that story is mild relative to what is alleged to have happened with the Senators. The fact that Karlsson took legal action against Caryk suggests that there is little chance of fence-mending to be done here, even if the harassment is linked to someone else. Hoffman’s agent even acknowledged as much, telling the Citizen that “it would be very difficult for both parties to co-exist.” Either Caryk has conducted an awful social-media campaign against the wife of a Sens teammate, or she has been unfairly accused of doing so by that wife. That horse will not go back in that barn.
This is the part of team management that fans, and media, often don’t see when we consider trades and draft picks and any number of transactions that simply move players around like pieces on a chessboard. It’s easy to slip into the habit of treating players purely like property, assets to be exploited. That attitude can be pervasive, as can be seen anytime a player has the temerity to ask for a trade, or decline one, or leave in free agency. That way lies a jersey burned in anger.
The athletes-as-chattel concept is also seen when players are routinely blasted for poor performance without any consideration of contributing factors. Some players absolutely do not put in the work to become successful, others try their damnedest but struggle in unfamiliar surroundings, or in a difficult role, or just because they are lonely.
They get paid great sums of money, to be sure, for a career that is, deservedly, the envy of most fans. But athletes can get hurt, too. They can lose a child. They can struggle with depression and abuse. It is trite to say that star players are also human. But sometimes we need to be reminded of that.