Consider this a pre-Olympic pre-apology on behalf of some of my soon-to-be embarrassingly overzealous Canadian compatriots.
As I wrote in THN’s collector’s edition Olympics magazine, I’m a bit fearful the upcoming Vancouver Winter Games will collapse into a nauseating orgy of corporate-emboldened Canadian nationalism, especially when it comes to hockey. (The Games haven’t even started, yet the 2010 official Olympic Theme music has been used to bombard and bludgeon the ears of TV watchers nationwide.)
If you’re preparing to accuse me of harboring some secret hatred for my homeland, let me assure you of the contrary.
I’m grateful to be born and raised in Canada and I’m always willing to defend what Canada represents on the world stage. The first writing competition I ever entered was the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Remembrance Day contest. I order Labatt 50 at bars without the slightest hint of shame and remain baffled that Trailer Park Boys did not become an Avatar-ian worldwide cultural phenomenon.
I just disagree with some people’s idea of what being Canadian entails.
To me, being Canadian is not about harkening back to a simpler (read: more White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) time when kids always called their elders by a Mr. or Ma’am prefix, knew ‘God Save the Queen’ forwards and backwards and stayed the hell off of front lawns that weren’t their own. And it definitely isn’t about arrogant boasts that Canada is the Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart (i.e. The Best There Is, The Best There Was, and The Best There Ever Will Be) of hockey.
The type of foaming-at-the-mouth, horse-blinder tribalism that fuels that line of thinking inevitably leads its proponents to make legendarily ridiculous statements – you know, like the asinine notion Dion Phaneuf deserved to beat out Nicklas Lidstrom for the Norris Trophy in 2007-08.
I’d never argue there’s something untoward about being a vocal fan of Canadian hockey or that the assembled throngs in Vancouver don’t have every right to scream their love for Team Canada’s players until their vocal chords give out. At its most basic level, that’s what the Olympics are all about.
However, I think being Canadian demands a more considerate approach – one that doesn’t presume each and every international hockey tournament should culminate in a Canadian coronation and that other nations only can win by playing dirty (always a hilariously ironic allegation when it originates from the birthplace of the “We Should Break The Ankle Of The Opposition’s Best Player” on-ice strategy) or because Team Canada wasn’t able to realize its potential.
I believe Canadian hockey fans have evolved to the point we can be as passionate as possible about a sport we love without doing so at the expense of other peoples. I think we have it in us to imagine ourselves on the unfortunate end of this situation – as perennial underdogs fighting a leviathan that has everything going for it – and to act as we would want other Goliaths to act: ferociously, so as not to compromise the competition, but with decency and empathy for every David, win or lose.
To me, when you’re Canadian, you work hard and you respect those who work hard, regardless of the combination of letters that appear on their passport. You understand the lasting lesson climate change and a worldwide loathing of lawyers have taught us – that we really are all in this together and can only improve by pooling and celebrating our diversities as we strive toward common goals.
That lesson likely will be lost amid the cloud of carnival barks and caustic consumerism that is about to descend on Vancouver. But that’s what I consider to be the quintessential Olympic ideal. That’s my Canada.
It’s great to be great, but greater to not be grating about your greatness.
If enough Canadians remember that over the course of the next two weeks, I promise to post-rescind my pre-apology.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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