On Saturday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation celebrated Hockey Day In Canada with more than a dozen hours of coverage dedicated to the sport, including the broadcast of National Hockey League games involving all seven Canadian teams throughout the day. Since 2000, a hockey-mad community from somewhere in the country hosts a remote broadcast of Hockey Night In Canada that lasts the entire day. In addition to the games, the CBC features several personal interest stories that reinforce the sport’s place in the nation’s culture.
This year’s host city was Peterborough, Ontario, where frozen parts of the Trent-Severn Waterway and the old Memorial Centre arena provided on-site locations for Ron MacLean, assorted panels of “experts” and Don Cherry to preach nationalism in the guise of advice to keep one’s stick on the ice while in front of the net. It’s a cynic’s field day, but before we turn a critical eye to the viewer grab and the glossed over motivations of the broadcast, it should be mentioned that the coverage represents some of Canada’s best sports television.
The feature segments aired between periods and games were often sentimental, but always well-produced and thankfully kept to a quick running time. One piece involving Peterborough Petes goalie Andrew D’Agostini, highlighting his work with Cystic Fibrosis Canada through his friendship with six-year-old Anthony Romanelli, stood out from among the others as a moving account.
However, it was MacLean’s work as host of the event, skating around a frozen canal and interviewing older men related to the game in different capacities, that kept the marathon broadcast watchable. His obvious respect for individuals and the anecdotes that surround the institution of hockey in Canada was on full-display. It’s to his credit that the television host was able to extract so many engrossing stories from those on the fringe of the game’s past while somehow managing to avoid schmaltz.
Nontheless, the heavy-handedness of the broadcast as a whole became distasteful as soon as it went to commercial breaks featuring beer advertisements that held hockey up to the level of religion. One couldn’t help but feel as though a communion cup of Budweiser was being force fed down the collective throats of a nation. Viewers were instantly reminded that the promotion of hockey as an element of Canadian culture by Hockey Night In Canada was audaciously self-serving given the way that its sponsors have exploited this relationship in the past and continue to do so today. Flashing red goal lights, anybody?
The illusion that the CBC was attempting to create with Saturday’s coverage became increasingly obvious as the broadcast continued later into the night. Instead of having our hearts warmed by stories of personal triumph through hockey that supposedly defined a nation, viewers were left wondering where this connection between a sport and a people began. Sadly, the history of hockey isn’t about endeavor inspiring identity, it’s a chronicle of social manipulation that paints Canadians as enthusiastic marks in a century old confidence game.
From the beginning of the sport’s existence, hockey was championed by authorities as an athletic endeavor, unlike gentlemanly cricket, suitable for the working class. Hockey was used as a brutish outlet for repressed violent urges in a people often associated with politeness, all while further strengthening stoicism as an attribute. It kept the majority in line and in good health, capable of completing physically demanding duties without complaint. Its uniqueness to the region was only promoted as a means of increasing a nationalist agenda against the rising threat of British and American cultural invasion.
A century later, after reshaping the narrative of the 1972 Summit Series to be a story of good overcoming evil – rather than victory through bullying (after being thoroughly outskilled by their opponents) – advertisers began to realize the benefits of exploiting the identity that nationalists had artificially created. This grew to the point of constant reinforcement, with every major Canadian company wanting to associate itself in some way with hockey for the sake of luring consumers. Synergies between broadcast content and sponsors had even more of an impact in this culminating snowball, and then we get to where we are now: a people deceived into believing in the natural association between identity and sports. The illusion is maintained by media eager to please sponsors who collect money through consumers eager to belong to this artificially crafted brand that Canadians adopted as their own.
Richard Gruneau and David Whitson explore this idea more fully in their book Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities and Cultural Politics. Michael Robidoux’s paper Imagining a Canadian Identity through Sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey, which appears in an issue of the Journal of American Folklore (Spring, 2002) also examines how hockey came to hold an accepted association with identity for Canadians.
Hockey Night In Canada, and as an extension, Hockey Day In Canada, continue to promote this false identity as being a natural progression of a rugged people. Of course, hockey isn’t the only sport to do this. Every distraction does it to a degree. Hockey is notable for its obviousness, and the unabashed methods of those who stand to benefit from furthering this association.
The Dumb Thing That Don Cherry Said
According to Don Cherry, the success that the Toronto Maple Leafs have experienced in the early going of the 2013 season – 14 points from 12 games – is due to the three amigos, Mark Fraser, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, who have a total of two assists from a combined 25 games. However, the team’s lack of success at home – with a record of 1-4-0 – is due to the crowd, who don’t cheer in the same way as the wonderful crowd in Peterborough, present to watch Coach’s Corner taped live in front of them. You see, Maple Leafs fans, daring to exhibit irony after years of not making the playoffs, have been chanting “Go Jays, go!” during home games, in reference to the city’s baseball team.
Just in case you’re capable of removing all reason from your thinking, and you can somehow con yourself into believing such hokum, it should be noted that the Petes, the local Ontario Hockey League team, have more losses at home this season than any other team other than the Ottawa 67s.
While Cherry’s explanative analysis was merely the typical malnourishing pablum that we’ve come to expect, the Coach’s Corner host saved his most dangerous ramblings for later in the segment when he defended the actions of Zac Rinaldo on the Philadelphia Flyers, who fed Tampa Bay Lightning forward B.J. Crombeen a steady diet of punches after the player had already fallen to the ice during a punch-fight that is only penalized by simultaneous five minute major penalties to both combatants.
Cherry glorifies the fight, which would be best shown to anyone who doesn’t think of the National Hockey League as something of a joke for still allowing this archaic practice. After video of the altercation is shown, a slow motion replay of an incapacitated Crombeen getting struck repeatedly in the face is shown. Cherry asked the video controller not to show it again, something that likely should’ve been cleared up prior to broadcast, unless of course, it’s all part of the broadcaster’s shtick.
Cherry’s defense of the barbarism:
You gotta realize, this guy fights wild. He’s a wild guy. There’s some guys who fight cool. This guy is wild. There are guys like him. They take no prisoners. That’s the way it goes. He was half way through. That’s the kind of guy he is. You fight guys like that. They take no prisoners. Crombeen got in that position. That’s the way you fight.
The segment was wrapped up with praise for the Canadian military who lost their life in the Korean War, because of course it was.
Your Animated GIF Of The Week
Phil Mickelson? More like Fail Mickelson. Am I right? Buuuurrrrrrn!
The Columbia Journalism Review has given ESPN a dart for the year 2012. The well-respected media watchdog handed the sports network a negative review for its “big, weird mistakes,” quoting Deadspin in the process. It criticized ESPN for hiring what it referred to as a scam artist and suggested it was a mistake to not act faster and more definitively with ESPN.com senior editor Lynn Hoppes, who was caught lifting content from Wikipedia and press releases.
Have Some Cake, And Eat It Too
War Of Tweets
ESPN NCAA Football analyst Desmond Howard vs. Jacksonville sports radio host Chad Scott.
@chaddscott but you enjoy Jacksonville radio and best wishes on the blog!
— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) February 7, 2013
@chaddscott talent usually rises to the top. Seen it happen with a lot of guys like yourself. Maybe it is you, after all : (
— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) February 7, 2013
Decision victory to Howard.
Your Moment Of Hyperbole