Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Captain Emo's Wrister

Hockey gets us worked up, sure. But at this time of the season, when no one’s yet running and gunning for the Cup and flu weakens road-ravaged teams of young men with germy preschoolers at home, sports coverage still suggests we should have opinions, should care about a player’s plus-minus, should review a slo-mo porn shot of a skate blade stomping a mouthy Finn’s ankle a million times to be sure our opinion matches everybody else’s.

Likewise, coverage of Todd Bertuzzi. The sports headline in this morning’s Vancouver Sun: “‘Let’s go,’ new court papers reveal Bertuzzi wanted to fight Moore before sucker punch.” This is news? At the risk of having an opinion about something unknowable and past its best-before date as stories go, here are a few things about this so-called new information.

Watch the tape of the March 8th game even once, and you will see Bertuzzi invite Steve Moore to fight again and again; if you are a practised lip reader, you will even see Big Bert toothlessly use the naughty language he was reluctant to repeat when recalling the events during discovery hearings because, he said “There’s two women in here.” (The Sun reporter refers to Bertuzzi as “sheepish” for this avoidance; must reporters speculate via the editorializing adjective?) We are informed—newsflash—that certain players even told management that coach Marc Crawford suggested they go after Colorado’s star players, Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk. Really, news?

Many interesting questions about that terrible night in Vancouver persist, but nothing media have passed on from these new documents should be considered newsworthy, or interesting. The Sun’s Cam Cole reported at the time of the sucker punch on Moore that Bertuzzi was only 50% to blame and that officials, the league and coaches were to blame for the other 50%. Tellingly absent from his equation were complicit media and fans, those who called for retribution, made a circus of the games following Moore’s own slo-mo porn hit on Captain Emo, Markus Naslund, those who wanted to see something happen and then were outraged and suddenly blameless when something did.

Watch the tape even once and you’ll wonder: how did Dan Cloutier play so badly—in March, against a division rival, the playoffs a month away—that the score raced so high; why did Brad May come out of the second intermission so crazy, crazy enough to score on David Aebescher and then take a penalty for what he said and did to the goalie, not just once; why was Bertuzzi on the ice without Naslund; why did Moore’s coach, the soon-to-be demoted Tony Granato, have him on the ice in the third period in a one-sided game without any protection and why did Granato allow the score to rise in a perpendicular way (final: 9-2); why wasn’t the Cooke fight with Moore in the first period enough; why didn’t Captain Emo and Colorado’s captain Sakic engage in some act of diplomacy so that necks weren’t broken and careers and seasons forever screwed. But mostly, why was anyone surprised by any of it, given what we know about the brotherhood of the game, the secret society of players and coaches and management, the money and power involved. And why be surprised now?

The surprise came back then because we had, once again confused professional sports with entertainment. They are not one and the same (well, David Beckham). That season, Bert and Nazzie and Mo were incredible to watch, on and off the ice. The story of that season was uplifting and exciting, and the team was winning with a brilliant first line that was getting a ton of press across the continent. Even their post-game smirks were heart-stopping. We were heading to the climax—A Cup win! Cue the cops downtown on horseback!—and the boys were so happy, the coach was letting them be creative (except when Bert wouldn’t backcheck and then Crawford benched him on Saturday night national tv), and the city was silly with optimism. We thought the team reflected us—fun, spirited, socially responsible and willing to visit the sick kids and cheer them up, to wear our hair in interesting Eurostyles—and that we would all be winners in a fine way.

We got caught up in a really realistic fairy tale—a delightful bit of entertainment—and allowed ourselves to forget that professional sports is, okay, entertaining, but not necessarily entertainment. Hockey is not Celine in Vegas, or even the Beckhams in Hollywood: skinny, melodramatic and bland. It’s unpredictable. It goes where it wants, regardless, and the players—and the testocrats—are in charge. The story’s subtext belongs to them, the engine driving the story is theirs and fans will never really get it. And players don’t care if we don’t.

Sucker punch, retribution, skate blade as weapon: all outrageous, okay, duh. But it was lovely and more interesting last night to watch Captain Emo beat Martin Brodeur—twice.

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