Nail Yakupov's goal celebration: Is the backlash legit, or xenophobic?

Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Why do we get upset with celebrations that have zero to do with taunting or blatant show-boating?

There's a pretty good chance you've seen the highlights of Thursday's incredible comeback win by Edmonton over Los Angeles. Heck, you may have even seen the game live, assuming you don't have a 4:30 a.m. alarm to deal with. If that's the case, maybe you made an adult decision and figured you could catch the highlights later.

Either way, if you haven't seen it, here is the video in question. Please watch before reading further.

I'm all about athletes being respectable. Respectable toward teammates, opponents, coaches, officials, media, fans, sponsors, the sport itself, and in just about any other area you can imagine.

Taunting isn't cool. Making the game all about the individual isn't, either. And this celebration by Yakupov does neither. Instead, it's a rookie celebrating one of the best goals he might ever score at this level.

Just think about the hand-eye coordination necessary to pull this goal off, and watch again as Yakupov does it perfectly on what was probably his team's last chance to tie what became a very emotional game over the final minute.

(With 1:05 left, a potential tying Edmonton goal was waved off when Sam Gagner was ruled to have interfered with goalie Jonathan Quick of the Kings. Fans responded by throwing crap on the ice, which is not cool at all, but only added juice to Yakupov's moment, surely.)

As Travis already noted, this is a great moment for a guy who could very well become a great NHL player. And if you buy into what he is saying, and you support the argument that this was a great celebration, please do yourself a favor. Don't do a Twitter search for his name.

Yeah, there's support out there for Yakupov. There are also some who want to call the fun police. Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy retweeted some of the more vile tweets (not as endorsements, mind you), many of which reference Yakupov's nationality (we get it, he's Russian).

Of course they have to bring that up. Because, as we know, the only flamboyant goal celebrations in NHL history have come from Russians.


Wait, Theo Fleury is Canadian? Seriously?

I'm not going to accuse those who want to rip Yakupov of being xenophobic, but the backlash really bothers me.

For example, here's a top ten video TSN had a while back, featuring a countdown of goal celebrations. You'll note the presence of non-Russians like Sean Avery, Tiger Williams, and Fleury on the list, along with surefire Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, who is definitely not Russian.

So maybe it isn't a backlash against guys who aren't "from here," but instead simply anti-Russian sentiment rearing its ugly head again. Either way, it's bugging me. Probably more than it should, too, and I'll admit that.

I have plenty of respect for the game and its history, and I don't have a lot of tolerance for guys who stain the sport.

However, Yakupov didn't do that on Thursday. He celebrated with emotion in a moment that totally justified an emotional response. Unless you want athletes to be robots, this can't be a big deal.

Now, if he does that with 7:00 left in a game and his team down 8-1, feel free to rip him for it. Just don't do it by bringing his nationality into the argument. It just makes the argument ring hollow when that happens.

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