Two or three times a week, I tie up the skates and velcro on the pads to play recreational hockey in Montreal. Our garage league features more than 90 teams and about a dozen divisions. So there are all kinds of players of almost every calibre, from washed-up-NHL-hopeful to still-can’t-quite-master-turning-in-each-direction. And there’s a wide range of ages, from late teens to late 50s. I’m in about the middle of each, using a liberal scale of judgment.
For the most part, it’s a ton of fun. And there’s nothing like a hard-skating hockey match to burn calories and tone the muscles. Scoring a goal now and then is so much gravy on the old poutine.
But, hockey being hockey, and boys being boys, sometimes it can get a bit chippy on the ice. Okay, more than chippy. From the elbow in the chops to the back-crunching crosscheck to the gangsta-rap-inspired trash talk – Ya little bitch! being a favourite term of endearment – it makes you wonder how grown men, who are paying to play, can act like such childish brats.
Not to mention that it’s supposedly a non-contact league. Don’t forget that these are folks who often play until midnight or later, but still have to get up early the next morning to go to work in order to feed and house the family. So I find it hard to understand why some guys in our league take such evident pleasure in diving at another guy’s knees as he cuts in across the blue line.
You might think the referees (the guys who actually are being paid to be there) would be a little more proactive in controlling and penalizing the rough stuff. But some nights you can see them pretty much give up in frustration as they get called every name in the book, by both teams. And that’s when things really get out of control.
In many respects, it resembles the state of our politics. Gone are the days when it might have been played a little rough in the corners, but for the most part there was mutual respect for those on either side of the face-off circle or the legislature.
Consider the extreme partisanship that now reigns in Canada’s Parliament. With a minority government, you would think that the governing Conservative Party might have some interest in civility, in searching out input from other parties in order to achieve as wide a consensus as possible.
You’d be wrong. The Tories use every single political question as a wedge issue in order to achieve any advantage, however slight. The calculation is that a few votes here and a few votes there will finally lead to a parliamentary majority, no matter the cost to one’s soul or the common good. Not that the opposition parties would necessarily act with any more class or generosity, but it’s the Harper Tories holding the reins of power. And at every available opportunity, Stephen Harper has chosen political brutality over respectful cooperation.
The last approach, unfortunately, is considered dangerously naive in modern-day politics. Just look at the failure of U.S. President Barack Obama to get a single Republican vote in Congress for his healthcare reform package. Despite public opinion polls that show voters are overwhelmingly in favour of extending medical coverage to the 40 million or so Americans who can’t afford it, not a single Republican has so far chosen the interests of his/her constituents over the narrow political interests of his/her party.
Perhaps I’m making a bit of a leap from the adrenaline-and-testosterone-inspired violence that occurs on the ice to the slightly more serious business of government and national politics. But it seems to me that the same lack of respect for our opponents and for our institutions – be it for the referee or the Speaker of the House – is at play.
At the end of the day, there needs to be more than one team playing to make the whole game worthwhile. Our democracy requires that we can have opposing parties that don’t treat each other as traitors to our country. And yet, that’s pretty much the tone of the debate both in the United States and here in Canada.
And it would be nice to play a game of hockey without feeling the need to belittle or brutalize an opponent as opposed to simply helping your team score more goals than they do. Don’t get me wrong; it does happen. Sometimes the hand-shaking ritual after the final buzzer sounds is more than just for show. But far too often, the urge is to demonize and destroy the opposing team. Just as this is bad for hockey, this attitude is equally harmful to the health of our democracy.