A Little Defense of Nathan Kotylak

A Little Defense of Nathan Kotylak

Actually, I come neither to defend nor to bury Nathan Kotylak, who has become the poster boy for the Vancouver riots over the loss of the Stanley Cup, but to admit that I feel sorry for him. 

But do I feel sorry for someone who not once, but twice tried to light a shirt stuffed into the gas tank of a police cruiser? There is video for all to see. There is the now infamous picture. There is another image of him standing next to some unnamed young man, pointing with an almost maniacal grin at something. There is the video of him apparently rummaging through a trash receptacle either looking for something to burn or fanning the flames of smoldering litter. We know that he was a student at a private school who got good grades and was on his way to the University of Calgary. A "star athlete." What could possibly go through a young man's mind that would make him do such a thing?

This is not who I feel sorry for. I don't even feel sorry for the blustering, crying teen who apologized to his family, community and city. The person I feel sorry for is the public enemy he's been transformed into. The object of an almost pathological hate, if any numerous Facebook pages are to be believed. I feel sorry for the person who is the object of so much desire for revenge, a visceral hatred that slipped from being anger over the riot to a personal vendetta. 

Let me explain: I am a vindictive man. I have a mean streak a mile wide. And I have no personal connection to Vancouver outside of one visit there years ago. I am not even Canadian. But I've been affected by the riot. I've been affected by the anger and outrage of ordinary citizens who have now seen their city become a symbol of violence. And I want to see these rioters punished: I want to read that Brock Anton has been arrested and that Alex Pro has finally put 2 and 2 together as to why his sponsors are jumping his sinking ship. I've been through hundreds of posts from Vancouverites who want the same thing. 

And I want to see Nathan Kotylak punished, too. Except now, that comes with worry. Worry that the online jihad against him, singling him out time and time again could lead to despair on his part. A despair that may nag at him: "Why bother anymore? The entire city hates you. The country hates you. They all want your future to end. Why stick around?" Now, for someone who is as vindictive as me to come to this point of worry speaks volumes: something is wrong. There is anger and there is outrage, but somewhere, a line has been crossed. The anger no longer feels righteous or at least, wholly justified. It now is like an ill-fitting suit. It's become constrictive, even suffocating, somehow. It feels like quiet fear. 

Just who am I? Well, a nobody, really. I have no influence, no power at all. I am merely an ordinary man who felt the anger of people in a city very, very far away. I have empathy, and that might be this vindictive man's saving grace. And because of that, I do feel sorry for Nathan Kotylak because I now want to believe he has the potential to change. How I've arrived at this, I can't explain, other than maybe it was a way out of that ill-fitting suit. Maybe the disturbing hate at him, repeated over and over again in those hundreds of postings was too much. Maybe I want to believe that Vancouver won't let this happen again because it can reassert its innate character. We saw it the day after, when hundreds of volunteers came out to clean up their city, and took to any venue they could to declare themselves the true face of this great city. And maybe because of that, I'm willing to feel sorry for Nathan Kotylak because he can become the poster child for, well, redemption. 

Mr. Kotylak, you have an awesome responsibility now, greater than anything in your immediate future. You must convince your city that what you said on television is true. You won't satisfy everybody. And there might be things down the road that will be bitter because of what happened. But you should have the chance at that future. You should have a chance to bring out your innate character, because this is what you promised. 

Who am I? Like I said, a nobody. A nobody who has been affected by a city and a person's story to whom he has no connection. A nobody who wants to believe.

I wish you both well.