Friday, August 14, 2009

Hockey Players: Are They Virtuous Farmboys or Just Violent Dickheads?

I think the offseason withdrawal has hit me particularly hard this summer. Can't say I know why.

You may or may not have noticed that no one on the Chronicle staff has yet talked about Patrick Kane's greedy and demented attack on a Buffalo cab driver. Not sure why this is, either. If the cabbie's account is true then Kane is a douchewizard, but then again who really knows? Even the cab driver's lawyer says things have been blown out of proportion. Whatever the truth of the Kane-kills-cabbie incident, this is a good time to wonder about one of hockey's central myths: that hockey players are "better" people than the scary blinged out hippity-hop thugs of other sports.

James Mirtle wrote a fine post about it a few days ago in which he confessed that he still likes to think of hockey players as somehow less horrible than other athletes, however contrary to reality this view might be. I'd say hockey players probably aren't as intolerable in their personalities as many of the more famous football, baseball, and basketball players, much nicer and more pleasant and such. But any notion that they're somehow more moral than players of other sports seems pretty delusional. Plenty of hockey players are good people who don't assault aged cab-drivers, of course, but the NHL isn't anywhere near as squeaky-clean as it presents itself, or as its fans imagine.*

Which can sometimes be just dandy. The "hockey players are different" myth is a close cousin of the "hockey players are boring" fact, so in too many cases we get the worst of both worlds: players that do obnoxious and sometimes horrible stuff off the ice with mind-numbingly bland personalities. Patrick Kane certainly isn't bland, of course; as SamFels at Second City Hockey says, "Another [myth] is the portrayal of Kane as some sort of sweetheart. Please. If you've paid any attention over these two years, it was obvious that Kane was a cocky little twat (and I loved it). He's not out to take your daughter to prom."

Part of Jeremy Roenick's quixotic mission was to make the NHL a bit edgier and more interesting, and sometimes that entailed being a cocky twat**. Not sure if he succeeded in his quest, but there are plenty of players these days who I enjoy quite a bit because they can be obnoxious and arrogant. Ovechkin is one (remember this?), though he doesn't seem like a dick as a human being. Kane is another, even though he's clearly a dick. Kovalchuk isn't as blatantly cocky as he once was, but he's still massively arrogant. He simply controls his pride's more juvenile manifestations better now. Still comes out in his violent outbursts though; the guy's extremely touchy, and he has a serious temper on the ice.

From everything I know about him off the ice, though, he's (amazingly) not only not a dick but actually kind of a decent and admirable human. But then again, who knows? For all I really know he keeps a private gulag in his backyard.

What exactly am I trying to tell you here? To go read the posts at Mirtle and at Second City Hockey about how hockey players are really all murderous ice demons, no matter what those terrible Lord Stanley's Summer documentaries on the NHL Network try to tell us. Seriously, have you ever seen one of those? They're a real vision of hell: nothing but lakes, autograph-signing, very flat land, and "Well it was a team effort."

Happy Friday, everyone.

*The element of race can't be ignored here. It's just a fact that (in the US at least) lots of hockey fans think hockey players are white-as-snow because they're literally white-as-snow.

**Ever noticed that the expression "cocky twat" SOUNDS great as a description of a disagreeable person, but is in fact the perfect verbal picture of the hermaphrodite?


Daculafan said...

You're players are people matter what pedestal we try to put them on. I do think as a community hockey players are more fan accessible and genuine to the crowds as compared to other athletes in other sports. If you look at the National Thugball League though the NHL looks like a scout troop. The NHL doesn't have anybody that could compete with the exploits of Pacman or Mike Vick.

Extra points for the word Douchewizard...that was just awesome.

Big Shooter said...

I haven't written about Kane because I think there is something more that hasn't been told yet. Waiting to hear the entire story and not just one side of it...

FrenchCatalogues said...

If the story is half true Kane doesn't look too great. It just seems very cold and lame. It's really too bad because going into last season Chicago was one of my favorite teams. Now with this and Hossa on it, I don't know... Toews seems cool though.

Like Daculafan said they're just like everybody, normal people. Hockey players are a weird bunch to me. Some, are the most boring personalities in the world. Just saying if I see anyone talking about growing up on the farm in Saskatchewan I might just throw up. That's cool. I grew up rural, and it was a big part of my life, but damn I wish there was some Roenick-esque behavior out there.

Roenick, McEnroe, Maradona, and so on, these are special kinds of athletes. I always got the impression most of the Canadian hockey players were the more wholesome types. Therefore, people get this impression that all hockey players are this way. Mind you most of these guys came from the farm or something. That Mike Richards is hilarious though!

FrenchCatalogues said...

Also when Darryl Sutter and Jay Bouwmeester are together it is as lively and funny as watching amateur night at the Apollo

Wayne stuck in AL said...

I think there's an air of hypocrisy about the U.S. sports fan: we decry the Terrell Owens and NBA "ballahs" of the world as being "poor role models for children", but NHLers are hugely ignored because they are rightly considered as boring and as colorless as water.

Years ago, when ESPN actually cared about hockey, Bill Clement (remember him?) was on Mike and Mike's radio show and attributed the humility of the hockey player (especially Canadian-born) to the fact that nothing was handed to him, that he didn't grow up with a sense of entitlement, unlike U.S.-born athletes.

Also, I attributed it to the fact that many NHLers are born-and-raised outside the U.S. in socialist/former Communist countries, where there is a tradition of the collective vs. the individual; "the nail the sticks up gets hammered down" or "the tall poppy gets cut down".

Wayne stuck in AL said...

I'd like to point out that Canada is rather socialist (compared to the U.S.)

FrenchCatalogues said...

Quoi? Almost every other Western country is "Socialist" compared to us. Hell you could make that point about England, France, Denmark, and so on. I'd like you to tell that to Don Cherry.

I feel like that word is getting kind of thrown around alot these days. When the players that were born under former Eastern Bloc governments they were at the tail end. I don't think Ovy thinks about the collective and combined effort of the former Soviet Union. The ones that do remember these times and were in the thick of them were pretty individualistic. Look at Jagr. His number was 68 because of the Prague Spring. I don't think he thought about the collective all the time either.

Mortimer Peacock said...


Yeah, I'd have to agree with Monsieur that your individual vs. collective theory, while interesting, probably isn't quite true. Not least because most of the European NHLers come from Russia and Eastern Europe, neither of which has been anything close to "socialist" for some time now. In fact it seems to be the Russians and the Eastern Europeans who are the MOST flamboyant and individualistic players.

The Russians are an interesting case. While they're all nostalgic for the glory years of Soviet hockey, they all hate and despise Communism (Kovalchuk has explicitly said so in more than one interview, if I'm not mistaken).

And yeah, remember Jagr's number. Quite significant.

And finally, I do relish the irony that your "tall poppy" trope comes straight from Australia, a highly individualistic culture not at all unlike the the US.

P.S. The word "socialist" has become totally meaningless. Like "fascist" and "capitalist" and "liberal" and "conservative," it's been drained of meaning and significance due to over-use and lack of understanding. Or so I think.