With the Sochi Winter Olympics about to begin, we're going to see a lot of displays of national pride in the coming weeks. But when it comes to hockey, Canadians need to temper that pride with grace and empathy.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is here – and when the games begin, we’ll see what we always see at these events: inspirational athletes being celebrated for all the right reasons, but also, waves of jingoism for all the wrong ones.
Such behavior is particularly embarrassing for Canada, where for three months and 50 weeks of every Olympic cycle we go out of our way to define ourselves as nowhere near as bombastic and self-involved as our friendly North American neighbors to the south. Yet for some reason, when it’s time for Olympic hockey, many Canadians remove that pretense of humility and and let our boor flags fly. They expect the rest of the puck-loving community to genuflect before what they erroneously perceive as Canada’s inherent advantage in the sport.
And if they don’t? Well, that’s “legitimate” grounds for them to ridicule and slander the rest of the hockey world. That’s license to call Russians enigmatic, frigid and/or selfish louts who just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to win any tournament. That’s cause to rip American athletes for being boisterous, confident and hailing from the world’s mightiest superpower. That’s permission to rant and rave about European teenagers coming here to play junior hockey and “stealing” roster spots. That's all the excuse they need to condescend to proud hockey nations such as Sweden and Finland for riding our coattails and only succeeding when they play “the Canadian way”.
It’s all quite exhausting and unbecoming.
Nobody is saying Canadians shouldn’t be publicly proud of our athletes. But you’d think a country that spends most of its time in the shadow of the United States would be less likely to throw shade at other nations. And that goes double if Canada winds up securing the gold medal in Sochi and the narrative becomes about what great odds they’ve overcome to stand atop the podium. Is there anything worse than a leviathan that pretends it’s an underdog? Not for me, although I do get equally nauseated when I hear or read people discussing Canada’s Olympic chances as if the gold belongs to us already and can only be pinched from our clutches if the Canadian players are lazy and unfocused.
We all should know better than that by now. If international tournaments such as the IIHF World Junior Championship haven’t taught us that the rest of the hockey world long ago caught up to Canada and is capable of defeating any of our teams at any point in time, we should immediately be enrolled in remedial hockey world lessons. If any Canadian believes that Canada running the table at major hockey events year after year is positive for the growth and future of the sport, they must shake their heads until further notice or until their ears capture a secondhand dose of good sense. Whatever comes first.
Before you lobby to have my citizenship revoked, understand I’m proud to be Canadian. But I’ve also lived long enough and I’m mature enough to be proud of non-Canadians. I know incredible Russian people, charming Swedes, awesome Czechs and earthlings from all walks of life. That's why I believe the Olympics are about gathering diverse peoples to foster understanding and acceptance. They’re not about using the momentary boost in ego that accompanies an athletic victory to insult the vanquished and their places of birth.
Legendary stand-up comic George Carlin said something I think perfectly sums up how we should regard the Olympic experience. He was talking about the odd nature of pride and how we often let it get the best of us.
“Pride should be reserved for something you achieve or obtain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth,” Carlin said. “Being Irish isn't a skill…it’s a @%*!$# genetic accident. You wouldn't say, ‘I'm proud to be 5-foot-11’ (or) ‘I'm proud to have a predisposition for colon cancer’.”
The same holds true for Sochi. Our pride as Canadians shouldn’t be derived from the results our teams deliver or our history as the sport’s first place of great growth. We ought to be most proud of acting with basic decency, win or lose, and of a passion for hockey that always will be second to none.