Hockey myths and Capitalist myths

zodiac zodiac at
Mon May 20 16:12:44 MDT 1996

Hi sports fans!

(Ya ya, sports... root canal surgery... who can tell the difference,
right? So whack yer delete key.)

I recently mentioned the "Curse of Ted Lindsay" and Detroit's underhanded
moves to stop a players' union in the 1950s as an explanation of why the
Detroit Red Wings can't win a Stanley Cup. ("The Curse" would certainly
help explain why Detroit Red Wing defenseman Paul Coffey decided to score
on his own net yesterday afternoon.)

I decided to pick up probably the most controversial book about hockey ever
written -- _Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey_, by David Cruise
and Alison Griffiths (Penguin 1992).

(I grew watching all these guys talked about in here as a kid. Playing
street hockey, my dream was to be another Eddie Giacomin or Rod Gilbert
(pron. "zhil-BEAR" -- French Canadian, y'see). Books, girls, music and
drugs (in that order) eclipsed those aspirations. But I regained an
interest in hockey, as a social tool, etc. Hockey's different now, no
longer the prized game of the Canadian working class and farm workers,
played with battered skates, boots, and sticks, and rocks as goal posts.
It's all store bought gear, padding, schedules, camps, mini-van mommas,
etc. Whole different culture, whole different product.)

Anyway -- This book was controversial because it did to hockey what
_Capital_ did to capitalism -- rip the owning class mythology about "the
love of the game/country," about workers/players giving up their lives
"for the love of the game/country," etc. It tears apart the "love of the
game" morality and false consciousness and reveals a system that exploits
young men, crushes untold thousands to produce one "star" -- and then
doesn't even give those stars the time of day when they retire. (The book
opens with a meeting of retired players who discovered the league ripped
them off of a minimum $25 million in pensions.)

"Hidden" in this sports tale is the story of the proletariat. For
instance... At one point the authors talk about "fear" that plagued the
retired players all their careers:

    Many of the players ... remember the retribution levied
    after the Lindsay and Harvey [union] uprising in 1957. Their
    memory of the owners' retaliation has added one more level to
    the culture of fear in hockey. Fear exists from the day a young
    player enters the League -- fear of injury, fear of embarrass-
    ment, fear of being traded, fear of demotion, fear of retire-
    ment, fear of punishment, fear of defeat in a fight and fear of
    the NHL bosses.

Exactly the fear that plagues the working class every day of our lives.
How far are any of you from disaster? How many weeks out of work before
everything you think you "have" is lost?  (I honestly can't imagine what
would society be like without a constant anxiety about the imminence of

    Active players tightly compartmentalize their fear barely
    acknowledging its existence. They know if it creeps into
    their consciousness, they're through. When they retire, the
    fear doesn't entirely go away. Instead, it metamorphoses into
    a sensory recollection, like the tingling anticipation of
    impact befote a hit. But one fear remains vivid and real --
    the fear of harming the game.

I'm going to follow this up with a snippet of the opening of the book.
Chapter 1 is called "For the Good of the Game" -- a perfect euphemism for
the ideology sold to the working class every single day.

In this opening scene, the vets of the game (now in their 50s and 60s and
70s) are gathering "secretly" in a cheesy Toronto hotel (near where I grew
up) to decide if they were finally going to fight for their rights as

Having seen organizing drives amongst people who have a conflict between
the bourgeois ideology crammed down their throats all their lives and what
they instinctively know is right, my heart goes out to these "Old-Timers"
(hockey term), as they progress through several stages in their evening:

   1) the comradery;
   2) the enemy is identified;
   3) anger at the injustice;
   4) decision to ACT;
   5) recoil in fright at having just decided to act;
   6) bewilderment and fear as they file home, uncertain what they have
      just done.

Probably my favorite line is when they are in stage 5, murmuring that they
can't act, they can't betray their teams, my oh my, that would be wrong...
And then, as in all such situations, a natural leader steps forward from
the ranks -- in this case none other than Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet of
Chicago Blackhawks fame. The book says:

    "The Blackhawks! Pah!" Hull spits out. The players' resolve hardens
    once more.

Laugh! I consider this the same as the worker who stands up and says "The
United States?! Bah!" It's shocking, and not always easy. And it takes
someone trusted to say it.

Anyway, if you've read this far, lemme add that if I was going to slip a
young hockey fan a subversive gift, this is it.

"See! Here are the people who built the game, average guys from farms and
working class neighborhoods of Ontario and Quebec... and here is what was
really happening to them. Those owners are parasites, ain't they? Don't
you just hate the pricks? Oh... don't tell your mother I called them
pricks, okay? Thanks... BTW... ever heard of Karl Marx?"


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