Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not a proud day to be a Canadian

Vancouver is ablaze. Rioting in the streets. “Canadians rioting?” people in other parts of the world ask. And at that moment you see the flicker of respect for Canadian character disappear from their eyes. You know then that you will never again be able to convince people that Canadians are uniquely different from Americans. And why? Is it all about a hockey game?

Hockey is our national sport. It is in our blood. One might say that in a way, it defines us. When Sidney Crosby scored the magical overtime goal to win Olympic Gold for Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the whole nation (including us expats abroad) rocked with joy and proud patriotism. “Can it get any better than this?” we asked. And then came the seventh game showdown between Boston and Vancouver, in Vancouver.

Actually, the ugliness didn’t begin then. It had begun already a few games earlier, when a Vancouver player sent a Boston player to the hospital and out of the playoffs. Until that moment, I had been  enjoying this season’s playoffs, thinking it was the best NHL hockey I had seen in years. It reached its highest point in the 7th game of the semi-final round between Boston and Tampa Bay when not even one penalty was called and it was just about the hockey. But it was all downhill after this. The Boston-Vancouver series started out with a slew of penalties, then we had the Vancouver biting incident, and finally the inexcusable cheap shot that sent a player to the hospital.

But this shouldn’t have come as any surprise in a game where TV sport announcers glorify each hard hit, where the most enthusiastic cheers from the fans come from crushing blows rather than spectacular plays, and where injuries are often blamed on a player not keeping his head up, rather than the clear intention of the opposing player to cause pain and intimidation. How do we expect to have great play makers when players have to spend most of the time with their heads up, worrying about violent hits, rather than concentrating on the puck and skillful strategy? Sydney Crosby, perhaps the greatest play maker of this time - missed the last half of the season due to a concussion caused by a cheap blow to the head. He apparently was more concerned in playing hockey than in worrying about being hit.

Hockey has become a gladiator sport. Should we be surprised, then, that it spread out into the streets after the seventh game loss? Riots aren’t something new to sport. Sport harnesses herd mentality which often brings out the worst in us. As we saw in “Lord of the Flies”, it only takes a moment for the social checks and balances to break down in order to bring out our most primitive instincts. Yes... also in Canada.

So, what do we want to define us as Canadians? The riots of Vancouver 2011? Or the warm hospitality of the Vancouver populace in the  2010 Winter Olympics? And when your small child puts on skates, grabs a hockey stick and heads out to the pond in the back yard to play with neighborhood friends, who do you want him or her to emulate?

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