My ability to understand hockey is still, in some ways, constrained by culture. Canadians and Americans do not, generally speaking, think of themselves as distinguished by wide cultural differences, yet they do exist, and if there is any area of life where the differences between Canadian culture and American culture are significant, hockey is it.
I get many of the American players- for all their skill and all their discipline, they are something familiar to me. The fact that so many of them went to college to play their early careers, that they were at some point forced to have some small measure of the sort of life I have had, that they went through a system which more or less resembles that of most American athletes, makes me feel as though I might be able to understand something about them as people. I have never been seriously athletic, and certainly never a member of American jock sub-culture, but in the giant Venn diagram of American society, that world has somewhat overlapped with mine. I have seen it, at least, I have spoken to it and heard it speak, I could trace its contours with my fingers.
The Canadian players, however, are often mysterious creatures to me. In
I saw an interview, although it must have been some time ago, with Staal-che, Crosby, and Fleury wherein their interlocutor asked whether they regretted not pursuing their education further. Neither Fleury nor Crosby answered,
Yet the world is so big and so old and so wild, there is so much to be seen and done and learned in it, so much that a human being might become, I can’t help but feel think it’s a little sad to be barely 20, or not even, and live your whole self in that tiny, frigid land. As much as I thrill at watching his play, part of me would be almost more thrilled if Crosby one day just said, “Fuck this, I’m 19 and I’ve got 371 bajillion dollars, I’m gonna take a year off and go live in a yurt, drink vodka, and learn to extemporaneously compose poetry in Mongolian, and when I come back, if I come back, you’re still gonna give me bajillions of dollars, because my game is still gonna be the hottest thing going.” Yeah, it would be irresponsible, and arrogant, and immature, and millions of fans would let out one unified howl of rage and despair, and I know he’s too serious about the sport to ever even ponder doing such a thing, but that’s exactly my point. 19, as the song says, is not the age of reason. 19 is all about irresponsible and arrogant and immature, that’s what gives us the cojones (or female equivalent) to really push the boundaries of our lives and the roles to which we were born. I feel a little sorry for people, even famous millionaires who are quite content with themselves, who don’t get to do that.
So much discipline, sustained over so many formative years and with total sincerity, however willingly accepted, must erode some parts of one’s personality, perhaps even of one’s personhood. It is not just, as the interviewer suggested, a question of forsaking education, it's forsaking experience, and most of the things that most of us know as simple human life. Is any sport, any game, hell, any single thing anywhere in the world really worth such a costly devotion? I ask not rhetorically, but sincerely, because I do not know, because this is foreign to me, because I do not understand the deeper why of it. Why is it time well-spent, ya Sidney? And what exactly has it made you, when you leave the rink?