Friday, January 19, 2007

The Rory Fitzpatrick Conspiracy

If you're not an avid blogger or internet news reader, you may have missed the whole Rory Fitzpatrick story. Rory is a veteran defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks. Despite ten seasons with the NHL, he has only netted nine total goals and only one assist this season. While on paper he isn't much, he's a fan favorite in the league. I would make comparisons to Jody Shelley. A hard worker, but not one to produce results that affect the team's season.

A hockey fan from New York took this season's All-Star voting as an opportunity to recognize Rory by starting a grass-roots campaign to get him into the All-Star game. The campaign was strong and Rory received thousands of votes from all over the country from fans that admired his veteran status and grinding style of play. After all, being an All-Star is about more than what's on paper, right? Rory's vote totals reached the hundreds of thousands. Before long, making the All-Star team wasn't even a question. In fact, there was a good chance that he would start.

It wasn't long before Rory's magic was found out. A computer programmer from Vancouver had found a way to vote for Fitzpatrick automatically. He developed an add-on for Firefox that would automatically fill in the All-Star ballot, including the scrambled picture code, and vote over and over again. All Rory fans had to do was start up their browser to cast their vote thousands of times. This Slate article explains the entire situation, including how the Firefox mod worked.

Needless to say, the NHL figured it all out before long and insisted on rectifying the situation. Whatever the vote totals were, officials and hockey pundits alike didn't think Rory deserved the accolade. As the Slate article explains, officials didn't find a strategic way of finding where all of Rory's automated votes originated. Instead, they simply discredited 100,000 votes. Unbelievable.

While it's entirely true that many, if not most, of the Rory votes came through automated means, the NHL shouldn't prevent a fan voted player from receiving his votes. If they were so dead-set against fraud, they should have done a better job with site security, or simply restricted the number of votes per person to a finite number (Voting was unlimited). In the end, no one gets hurt, and a ten year veteran of the league gets a chance to represent his team, his city, and a slough of fans that care about more than numbers.

While writer can debate the legitimacy of the campaign, the NHL needs to realize that the Vote-for-Rory campaign is a blessing to the league. In many places, media articles brought attention to the upcoming All-Star game and drew in fans that normally would have tuned into American Idol or whatever drivel is on during the same time slot. Fans are fascinated by the Rory campaign, not turned-off by it. After all, it's one player on a roster of dozens.

According to this article from NHL.com, Rory obtained 480,000 votes. That's good enough for 4th best overall, and is surely a record for a write-in candidate. I support the Rory movement. Next year we'll get Shelley to the game!

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