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Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: The treatment of the others

As we prepare ourselves to watch the Olympics in Russia, we should reflect on the rhetoric around European players and how the "good Canadian boy" narrative is flawed. The defamatory nature that some players are talked about if they are not from certain parts of North America is a pattern that has emerged.


In history the Others refers to someone who is different than the majority. In the context of history this means any non-white, non-European person, Jewish people not included.

Xenophobia is the fear and hatred of foreigners.

Racial categorizations are social constructs that are not necessarily about skin colour.

European players are treated differently by the mainstream media in North America than North American players are. They are treated as is they will leave to go home at any moment, breaking their contract with their team if they are Russian, even though only Radulov has done that.The problems emerge when the narratives use the words lazy, disinterested, bad teammate, and other narratives which are often debunked when talking to those with the organizations that the players play in.

Why does it happen? I am willing to hypothesize through reading the book The Greatest Game by Todd Denault. The book talks about the emergence of the Soviet Union as a hockey power and the different style that they played. A style that was completely different than what North American coaches saw as the "right way" to play hockey. Couple this with the Cold War and it is easy to come to the conclusion that between the taught fear of anything coming from the Eastern Bloc and anyone that plays a different style of hockey than the traditional North American brand of hockey, which was dump and chase. The fact that many current analysts grew up during the Cold War era lends credence to this hypothesis.

Examples: Like when I wrote about racism, I have found examples of xenophobia in the media. I have focused solely on MSM this time as there were an ample amount of examples without having to include any fan bases, so my defense of any fan base is not warranted at this time.

Ilya Kovalchuk: I remember watching the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and Glenn Healy criticizing Ilya Kovalchuk for not scoring. Criticizing Kovalchuk was not the problem, it was ignoring the fact that he led the playoffs in scoring and that Zach Parise was also not scoring was the problem. Kovalchuk also suffered from the perception that he was selfish and hard to coach. This slowly changed under Jacques Lemaire, who taught him how to kill penalties and become a two hundred foot player. It seems as though no one had tried to teach Kovalchuk to play defense and therefore he had never learned.

Kovalchuk played in North America for 12 years. In that time he evolved from a dominate goal scorer to a goal scorer who could suddenly play defense. In the summer of 2012 he suddenly announced his retirement from the league. Shortly after he joined SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, playing in his home country for the first time since he was a teenager (excluding the lockouts). He was going back home to be closer to family, allowing his widowed mother to see her grandchildren regularly. He walked away from a massive contract; the money remaining on his deal with the Devils was never going to be received by him. That did not stop Jeremy Roenick from calling Kovalchuk selfish for retiring from the NHL and leaving the Devils void of his scoring talent. But it is better that a disgruntled player retires and puts his team in a lurch than playing disgruntled and becoming an albatross. The only thing Kovalchuk did wrong was play on bad teams, play injured, and go home so he would be happier.

Alexander Burmistrov: Burmi, as he is affectionately known by Winnipeg fans looks like a case of player mismanagement. He was rushed by Atlanta, something everyone can agree with. It was what happened in his third year that left him wanting out of Winnipeg. He wanted to go home during the lockout, there was an agreement that all NHLers playing in the KHL had to return when the season resumed and they all did. Burmi than struggled, as did veteran Olli Jokinen. While Jokinen was given ample time to work through his scoring woes, Burmi was healthy scratched and played with Eric Tangradi and Mike Santorelli. Burmi felt like he wasn't respected and the organization was not putting him in a position to succeed. Though Burmistrov was never one to complain while he was in Winnipeg and was a player who was constantly in the community at community rinks, local MSM decided to blame Burmi for his woes in Winnipeg . No party should have be absolved of blame for what happened to Burmi because both are guilty in this scenario; one of poor scoring and one of player mismanagement yet MSM laid a majority of the blame at the feet of Burmi.

Ales Hemsky: Hesmky is not Russian like my first two examples, but Czech. He as had numerous injuries from getting hit hard by going into areas that some players will rarely enter. He plays through painful injuries to try and help the terrible Oilers win the odd game. When things got too painful for him, the team has to shut him down. Hemsky is a tough player who is called soft because he puts himself into vulnerable positions to make plays, injuring himself and opening himself up for criticism. He is a tough man though and deserves more respect from those that cover him.

The Sedin Twins: I had to include Henrik and Daniel because they are exceptional hockey players who are criticized for being soft even though they are masters of the cycle. During the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, Brad Marchand decided to use Daniel Sedin as a punching bag and when Daniel did not fight back he was condemned for not being tough enough. Brian Burke recently said that they had to be surrounded by beef because they small and weak, even though Daniel is 6'1" and Henrik is 6'2" according to the Vancouver Canucks website.

What can be done?

We can monitor ourselves and others, making sure that we are fair in the conclusions we draw about players. We can hold the media accountable for what they say and what they write. We can choose to not read it, write into their bosses, or we can call them out on it and educate them. Unless they have their heads up their asses they should be willing to listen to those who consume their media. Education is always the best approach but repeated behaviour should not be tolerated by fans of the game. When players are called out too often, it wears on them and the NHL loses out on talent that enhances the on-ice product.

End Note:

I originally wrote this back in December and decided to publish it now. When people travel to foreign lands things are different than they are in North America. Some journalists have made light of the situation, Sean Fitz-Gerald and Bruce Arthur of the National Post are exhibit A for this, as is this tweet from Vicki Hall of the Calgary Herald:

There will always be the people who complain about the differences between the country they are visiting, but most of them seem to be genuinely entertained by the differences.

Finally, watch this video on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Brad McCrimmon's family, and healing.