The metaphoric relationship that exists between organized sports and real life is the reason many of us enroll our children into sports. Through sports our children can learn discipline, the benefits of repeated practice and the wonderful example that together, we can accomplish more than the sum of our talents might suggest possible. They will also learn that despite their very best efforts the opposition through superior talent, harder work, or better luck, will sometimes win. Indeed perhaps the most valuable lesson sports can teach us is how to handle defeat with grace. The games our children play are governed by rules which are implemented by referees. Just as later in real life, our actions are governed by laws, which are enforced by the police.
My morning routine whenever possible involves watching the previous evenings sporting high lights while I eat breakfast. This morning’s high lights included a very hard but legal check from a hockey game. Directly thereafter, a scrum ensued with the ‘hittee’ desperate to engage the ‘hitter’ in an altercation, an inclination the hitter did not share. The telecast then turned to an interview with the said ‘hittee’, in which he acknowledged that the play that had upset him was fair, within the rules of the game, but that he was disappointed that the hitter was unwilling to ‘answer the bell’ as he put it – (a hockey euphemism for being willing to absorb a punch in the nose with a bare fist for having committed the sin of playing the game within the boundary of the rules.) The inference being that the hitter’s manhood was somehow less than complete because he didn’t drop his gloves and settle it like a man. The defenders of this train of thought (a very large group which includes virtually every hockey analyst on TV) point to a long list of reasons this mentality persists and needs to persist in order to keep order. However when confronted with an opposing view, the discussion usually ends with some version of: ‘you wouldn’t understand if you never played the game at a high level’ –which reminds me of the schoolyard bully resorting to: ‘you’re too stupid to understand’ when unable to verbalize his opinion articulately. The lesson seems to be that when humiliated, frustrated by the unfair actions of others, or disappointed by defeat, perhaps a good fist to the beak of your opponent would make everything right. The culture of the sport is such that this train of thought is not only tolerated by authority, but rather encouraged and seen as a natural consequence of regular game activities. This explains why grown men without the presence of referees can play the lowest brand of pick up hockey for years without getting into a fight. Throw a couple of referees amongst the same men and tell us we are playing for the local beer league C division championship and all of the sudden the gloves are off.
Other sports don’t seem to be encumbered by the same goofy traditions as hockey. In the NFL, bigger, stronger men help each other up after colliding violently at full speed. NBA players, the biggest and strongest of them all, routinely embrace their opponent at game’s end. Yet in hockey, we have our seven year olds shake hands before a game to avoid the possibility of an altercation in a post game handshake line when emotions might be running high! What is lost in that practice is the opportunity to teach our kids the best lesson of all- learning to congratulate an opponent who beat us. It’s a useful life skill for those among us that don’t make it to the NHL.
Thanks for reading,