Birds, Louts, and Losing

A couple of days ago, I congratulated myself for sticking with this blog project fairly consistently. I then promptly disappeared for a couple of days. So it goes.

A few things:

As I type this post, I am seated out back of the family estate here in Juniorvania on a Muskoka chair that needs a coat of paint and some TLC. Nevertheless, the birds are chirping, the wind is rustling through the trees, even I can see that there are buds in places that used to feature only bare branches, and the daffodils have announced their yellow presence throughout my general vicinity. I am in my shirt sleeves and the sun is shining. I do not have to work today, and in a couple of hours I’m going to go in and watch a playoff hockey game. The wireless signal produced by the JBC geegaws is of sufficient strength to permit me to chronicle my indolence from this most favoured position.  Life is good.

I became aware of this as a result of a comment by PPP in a post over at Pension Plan Puppets. It’s truly sickening.

Hugo Contant’s only connection to countryman Jean Pierre Masse was that he happened to be close enough on Causeway Street after the game to see Masse try to walk past about two dozen drunken Bruins boors.

“He (Masse) was wearing glasses,” Contant recalled yesterday. “And he had a red Canadiens shirt on. When he approached them, they began yelling things like, ‘Go home, you French (expletive)’ – things like that. I heard (Masse) laugh and say, ‘We don’t want to fight . . . we don’t want any trouble,’ as he tried to pass. Then someone punched him once, maybe twice, in the face. He went down and his eyeglasses came off.

“That is when I see this other man in the Bruins shirt walk up and kick him in the head, while the man was still laying in the street,” Contant said. “And then he kicked him again in the face. That’s when I ran to him, because I thought they would kill him. When I got to him, I thought he was dead. That is when I screamed, ‘Look what you’ve done!’ ”

It is truly astonishing to me that some people apparently have so little going on in their own lives that they would even consider physically assaulting a complete stranger because of his support for a rival sports team. All joking aside, I have real difficulty conceiving of the complete and utter lack of basic civility and humanity that facilitate the commission of such an act.

Obviously, such behaviour is unacceptable. As I indicated in my reply to PPP’s comment, I think that morally, we are obliged to prevent such things from happening where possible, and that we must see to it that those who do offend in this way are punished severely. If we do not, we are to a certain extent complicit in this outrage. There will be a tendency among newspaper columnists and other social commentators, eager for the easy angle I suspect, to try to make this an issue about Boston sports fans, or perhaps American culture; any such attempts to neatly confine the issue are, in my opinion, misguided because they fail to admit of the possibility that it could have happened anywhere. Neither the City of Boston nor the United States of America has cornered the market on hooliganism and loutish behaviour.

Keeping that proviso in mind – that I do not suggest that either Bostonians or Americans are uniquely or especially morally defective – it seems to me that at the very least, the Boston Bruins ought to be all over this incident. They ought to be making an example of the waste of skin in the Jason Allison jersey ( ! ) who did this to Mr. Masse and any other person that they believe to be involved. For starters, they ought to be taking steps to ensure that nobody who participates in anything remotely like this is ever admitted to a Bruins game again. They ought to go public with an announcement to that effect, and they ought to make it clear that they will not tolerate, under any circumstances, any kind of association with those who behave in such a fashion. The other NHL clubs ought to be adopting similar policies and security measures, and the league as a whole ought to speak out immediately and emphatically on this issue, making it clear that violence and hooliganism will not be tolerated in any way. I recognize that the NHL is big business, and that taking such a stance may be more problematic in certain markets than others (I’m looking in your direction, Philadelphia). I further recognize that the last thing the league wants to do, on the best of days, is to re-ignite the eternal debate about the role of violence in hockey, a topic that will inevitably arise as those with sport-related agendas and small brains will point to fights on the ice as somehow “causing” an incident like this. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for the league to take a principled and ethical stand on an issue of general societal importance; we ought to demand no less from good corporate citizens.

As for our own individual conduct, we should each of us remember this sickening incident and see to it – by policing ourselves – that no one around us is ever permitted to cross the line separating civilization from barbarism again. Long before the scumbag in the Allison jersey went off on Mr. Masse that night, he was asshole. There were people around him who knew he was an asshole. They failed to make it clear to him that he was behaving like an asshole and that he needed to not be doing that. Those who failed to discourage such behaviour are not guilty of assaulting Mr. Masse; they do not have his blood on their hands. They have, however, most assuredly failed us and failed our society in general.

Game Five, Washington/Philadelphia: I was left with two lingering thoughts following Knuble’s goal in double overtime to end Game 4. First, I wondered where this game would fit for Caps fans in Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing” taxonomy. At first, I was convinced that this had to be a “Level XII” or “Achilles Heel” loss because it seemed to me that Washington’s defencemen were revealed to be so obviously and woefully overmatched in this game (particularly the uniformly execrable Milan “Here, Let Me Tee That Up For You” Jurcina) that no other description could possibly apply. On further review, however (he says, holding the little black phone to his ear and jamming the other finger, the one with the whistle clipped on to it, in his other ear to staunch the crowd noise) I believe this to have been a “Level VIII” or “Dead Man Walking” loss: Jurcina in particular had played badly in the series prior to Game 4, and even the otherwise heroic Mike Green had committed some costly turnovers in all three previous games, so I think it would be a little false to characterize this loss as revealing a hitherto secret weakness on a contender. Rather, it seems to me that this loss was one from which mentally, it is likely that there is no coming back for the team. The Capitals got such outstanding goaltending from Cristobal Huet, and as a team they hung in there so tough in the face of an amazing amount of adversity – the five minutes shorthanded in period one, brutal officiating that allowed the Flyers to unleash their elbows at will, their own stupidity in taking not one, but two “too many men on the ice” calls, more brutal officiating that had Victor Kozlov in the box for a laughable goaltender interference penalty with less than three minutes to go in a tied game that they HAD to win – and they came so close to winning in spite of it all, but it was not to be. The point is that they had the chance to turn the tide in the series – a win in that game, in the face of all that adversity would have given their legs an incredible burst of energy stemming straight from enhanced confidence. Instead, they went down 3-1 and have to suspect, in their heart of hearts, that it is not meant to be. They are Dead Men Walking.

Second, as I have noted elsewhere, in my opinion the person who ought to be most ashamed of his performance in this post-season (with the possible exception of the aforementioned Mr. Jurcina) is Steven Walkom, the NHL’s Director of Officiating. Seriously, what the hell is going on this year? There have been goals scored when the attacking team was offside. There have been goals disallowed because the official was “intending” to blow the whistle. The types of calls being made within games and from game-to-game vary so broadly and erratically that the referees have become nothing but a laughable source of frustration for the fans and players of every team. In what world was it fair for the referee to banish Kozlov for goaltender interference (please read, “being propelled into the goaltender by an opposition player”) with 3 minutes remaining in the third period of a tie game, and yet no call at all was made when a Philadelphia player (it may even have been Knuble, now that I think of it) steamrollered right over Huet in overtime? Bugger the fiction that it’s fair to “let the players decide” by putting the whistles away: that philosophy of officiating gives an advantage to a team that takes physical liberties with its opposition. If you can make it into overtime with a bunch of muggers and goons, your opposition is doomed because they don’t stand a chance of surviving the extra frame. This type of “situational ethics” is exactly the kind of thing that engenders suspicion of the officiating in general. If it’s a penalty in the first period, it’s a penalty in the second overtime. Call it, and call it the same for both teams. How hard is that to understand as a mission statement for the zebras?

Twenty-five minutes to game time now. I need to go run a couple of quick errands, then settle down in front of the tube. Ovechkin and Semin need to dominate early in this game, and the Caps need to score early and often. If they can win this one, who knows what might happen – but I suspect they are Dead Men Walking.