If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau
There is an eleven-year-old girl to whom I look up. Her name is Keila Penner, and she lives in Lachine, Quebec, a fifteen minute drive from Montreal. Penner is a fan of the Ottawa Senators, which is somewhat uncommon, considering that the franchise has only been around since 1992, and she lives near Montreal where the Canadiens play hockey. Les Habitants have been a professional hockey franchise since 1909, and have won the Stanley Cup 24 times, which is more than any other team.
Outsiders often compare Montreal’s devotion to Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge to a religion, but there is no denomination of followers so fervently aligned, while simultaneously critical and suspicious of every edict that comes to be promoted as truth. La Sainte-Flanelle are more like a sometimes-benevolent dictatorship of culture. After all, there is no blind faith in the team, fans demand to see evidence instead of trusting in the unseen. However, there is uniformity in the following.
Or, at least assumed uniformity.
With the Canadiens and Senators set to battle in a first round playoff battle, Penner’s school decided to hold a “Habs Day” event in which students were encouraged to dress in the local hockey team’s gear. Not only did Penner wear a Senators jersey to school that day, she refused to take it off when confronted by teachers. She was, in turn, sent home by the school.
When I was a kid, I was a fast runner. This had little to do with any inherent athletic ability, and a whole lot more to do with a gangly frame that allowed for larger strides than my diminutive-by-comparison classmates. What would take a typical twelve-year-old 100 steps could be easily accomplished by me in 75.
As such, I was invited to try out for the elementary school track team. I was a nervous wreck prior to the 100 metre dash that would decide my fate as either a future Olympic sprinter or just another schlub. After getting out of the blocks, within three steps of the starting line, I had slipped, fallen over spectacularly and taken out two other runners.
It was awful.
On the ground, with knees scraped and my head down, I heard nothing but laughter. As I looked up, I began to scan the crowd for at least one sympathetic face. As my eyes reached the two teachers in charge of this horrible track and field enterprise, I saw that they too had avoided even the slightest effort to stifle their laughter. I went home early that day because I was “sick.”
The only positive aspect found in all of this was that it happened before YouTube was accessible to cruel adolescents, and therefore the memories of my failure lasted only in the legend spun by classmates rather than a shaky video somewhere. A couple of weeks later it was forgotten by everyone, but me. I now carry this as the most memorable moment of my adolescence.
This week, on a much larger scale, there were two incidents of failure in professional sports that sparked the type of derisive laughter that sticks to a subject’s soul.