Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't let the door hit you on the way out...

So Long, Brisebois. Yeah yeah, I know--I'm heartless. In all the articles I read, like this one, people praise him for trying, really really hard. Mostly because there's little else that's praiseworthy. But he TRIED hard.

One of my favorite books/short stories is Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (complete text here). In it, we see a dystopic future where everyone is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Those with athletic ability are encumbered by weights. Those with exceptional minds have implants that disrupt their thoughts. All in the effort to make sure everyone feels good about themselves, and no one is better than anyone else. All that matters now is how hard people try, without any consideration of the actual results.
And that's what pisses me off about Brisebois and his apologists: he TRIED hard.
So what? He sucked.

A virtue we Americans think is unique to us is that we value effort over ability. Work hard, get ahead. But in no area is it more obvious than professional sports that we also value exceptional talent. As Crash Davis put it, when folks like Nuke Laloosh were born, the Gods reached down and turned their arms into thunderbolts. You don't pitch in yankee stadium or Fenway Park unless you were blessed with talent that ordinary people can only dream about. Yet we don't deplore that; we rush out and buy replicas of their uniforms. (I suspect that one reason for this is the mystical belief that clothing ourselves in the same garments of our heroes somehow brings us closer to possessing their exceptional powers.)
Of course, the athletes dearest to us are the ones who are both talented AND hard-working. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team would never have beaten the Russians without an exceptional degree of talent, and could not have done so without an equal measure of hard work. As much as we like to pretend they were your average, hard-working, next-door-neighbor blue-collar Americans, those boys were not ordinary humans. Though not as gifted as the Russians they played, they still were a bunch of Division-1 stars, many of whom were on their way to the NHL. But what makes them truly outstanding is their combination of ability and truly exceptional effort.
Another heart-warming story that comes to mind is "Rudy," where a kid without size or natural ability manages to earn his way onto the playing field for Notre Dame for two plays. But that's the problem with Brisebois: he was just like Rudy, but got to play ALL THE TIME.
Youth sports teach us many things. One of them is the ability (hopefully) to recognize and accept our own limitations. True, we may rise above those limitations for one glorious second, one play, or even an entire game, but sooner or later we still have to find a way to accept ourselves for what we are, warts and all. That's what maturity is. I know I have an accurate wrister and can skate pretty fast. But I also know I will never be able to make a brilliant pass or see the ice like Wayne Gretzky could. And really, that wrist shot is probably not as good as I'd like to think it is.

So what example does Patrice Brisebois set? The answer is: It doesn't matter how much you suck. We'll let you play because you try REALLY hard. And even though this is a results-oriented business, fuck it, go on out there and give it your best shot. And you get to keep a roster spot and wear the sweater of the most storied franchise in the NHL. The fans, who live day-to-day with their own regrets and petty victories and defeats, who want to escape for an hour and a half into the NHL's marvelous display of ability, where they can fantasize about being part of that dream-world and hopefully, just maybe, become a living breathing part of a championship team, instead get to watch the idiots who keep playing Brisebois tear that dream-world apart. They get to see their beloved team lose because of a bone-headed pass or yet another coughed-up puck. They get to add that bitter disappointment to the real-life disappointments they experience every day. We can forgive the Ryan O'Byrnes or Steve Smiths who make that occasional, really stupid play like putting the puck into their own net, because we know they'll do better next time. We can get behind that, cause we've all been there in our personal lives. What we can't abide is someone who keeps doing the same stupid shit day after day, and is seemingly never held accountable. We get enough of that in the average work week. We don't need to see our favorite team do it when we come home, too.

So good riddance, Brisebois. Perhaps the blame is not yours entirely. After all, who can blame you for living the dream of playing for your home team? We can surely blame the managers and coaches who let you on the ice as well. And we should also know better than to believe the ridiculous platitudes from the sports-writers when they say "but he TRIED hard." If they are to believed, then I'm owed a spot on the Canadiens roster too.

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