No, we don’t have a right to know what’s wrong with Jonathan Toews. But ...
The Blackhawks star hasn’t spoken since December about the medical condition that has kept him off the ice this season.
Do we have a right to know what’s wrong with Jonathan Toews?
The short answer is, no, we don’t. We don’t have a right to know why the Blackhawks captain, a three-time Stanley Cup winner and a sure-thing Hall of Famer, hasn’t played a game this season. In a December statement released by the Hawks, he said he had been “experiencing symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic.’’
He said he was working with doctors to better understand his condition. Since then, silence.
So that’s it, right? Nothing to see here? End of discussion?
Well, no. Not even close.
It has been more than two months without news on the Toews front, and lots of people are worried. They’re worried not as Hawks fans, but as fans of Jonathan Toews, the person. They want to know how worried they should be and where to direct their worry.
And, because of the hush from Toews, the rumors are all over the place about the mystery ailment, adding to the sense of concern and foreboding.
Fans want to know what’s wrong, not because they’re intrusive by nature, but because he’s Toews. Because they’ve spent 13 seasons with him. Because they love what he stands for. Because he’s one of them.
So they want to know. A lot.
On Feb. 9, the Sun-Times ran a story addressing Toews’ situation, with Hawks general manager Stan Bowman saying that the team had no update on the captain’s condition. The most remarkable thing about the story is that, since it ran, it has remained one of the Sun-Times’ most-read stories on a daily basis. Remember, it was a story with no update. It means that people who have been Googling to see how Toews is doing have found our story. It means that people want to know.
However Toews wants to handle this is the right way. But it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to stop wondering about him, nor does it mean you’re an awful person for wanting to know what’s wrong with him.
I don’t think I’m off-base when I say that wanting to know means that most of you are caring human beings.
Toews’ desire to guard his privacy is human, too. It’s also possible he still doesn’t have a diagnosis — or, if he does, that he hasn’t gotten his head around it yet. Maybe he needs time to process things.
We’re weighing all of these elements amid a swirl of rumors that is starting to look like a funnel cloud.
Is he OK? Is he going to play again? What’s wrong?
The right answer to this, going back to our first question, is that nobody has a right to know what’s wrong with Toews except Toews. But there is some nuance.
It’s true that, over the course of his career, he has kept to himself more than most athletes in his lofty situation. He hasn’t asked Chicagoans to be part of his life. He hasn’t had a million endorsement deals off the ice. He’s not Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, both of whom knocked on our doors with products to sell and then demanded privacy when we asked about their lives.
But being a star athlete means giving up some of your private space. Standing on the ice in front of 20,000 spectators means you’re putting yourself out there. There’s a price to be paid when you’re famous. One of those prices is that it’s impossible to expect fans to forget about you when it suits you.
A serious health issue seems out of bounds, a line not to be crossed. But a portion of the fan base will say: “Yes, I understand all that. But I’ve paid good money to watch him play year after year, money that has gone into his pocket. Would it hurt to get an update?”
When I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, I thought it was important for me, as a journalist, to let readers know. I had spent a professional career trying to get information from others, sometimes trying to get information that others didn’t want me to have. How could I now play the privacy card? It didn’t seem right. I couldn’t be conspicuously absent from the newspaper for weeks without explanation while I went through chemotherapy and radiation. So I released the information for public consumption.
Should I apply the same right-to-know expectations to Toews? No. For starters, I’m about 1/1,000,000th of the public figure that Toews is. And we come from different life experiences. It doesn’t help that this is the NHL, which is notoriously close-mouthed about injuries. What you call the common cold, the league often calls an upper-body injury. Why the intrigue? Because who knows what could happen if that information gets in the hands of the wrong people! The suspicion about sharing injury news might be informing Toews’ decision to stay silent now.
I know some people will react harshly to the very idea of this column. They’ll rush to protect Toews. It’s what people do with celebrities. Social media is full of fans who are outraged if Kim Kardashian is outraged and in tears if Nicki Minaj is in tears. Many are hoping that the celebrity will acknowledge them in some way. With a retweet? Or, be still my heart, a DM?
It might be in Toews’ best interest to give an update. Or not. But one thing is certain: It’s silly to expect that because he’s out of sight, he’s out of mind. The longer this goes on, the more demand there will be for information.
Just understand why: He’s beloved in Chicago. That’s it. That’s what this is about.