Loser Culture: Why We Misplace Blame in Hockey, and in Politics.

NHL Playoffs… Last night Ottawa went down to the Penguin Juggernaut… Nashville lost a controversial game to Chicago, and once again, like every year, the losers blame everyone but themselves.

Shortly after Team USA’s loss to Team Canada in the gold medal hockey game this past Olympics coach Ron Wilson (also coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs) indirectly, and perhaps only partially, blamed a referee and unlucky circumstance rather than his team. He argued that the puck struck a referee before landing on Sydney Crosby’s stick, shortly after which, it ended up in the back of the net. Anyone who watched the game could easily argue that Canada looked relatively more dangerous throughout, and also might say that however the puck ended up on Crosby’s stick is immaterial, it is, of course, only  where it ended up after that is truly important. One should consider that, besides that goal,  he scored 51 others during the NHL’s regular  season (the most in the league) in addition to the 5 he has already scored in these playoffs (he is 6 games in). So why should Ron Wilson even mention the referee? Is it to avoid coming to terms with his own failure? Or to quell some of the guilt and disappointment the team felt? Neither are particularly honorable, in the face of a true admission of loss, something that is now hard to come by in the worlds of sport or politics. It seems we have declined into a culture of sore losers, of guiltless buffoons, all of us desperate for a place to stow our blame.

Last night Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks pushed Nashville defenseman Dan Hamuis into the end boards, drawing a five-minute major penalty for boarding. On the ensuing powerplay it was Chicago, not Nashville, who scored, sending the game into overtime. Who won the game in OT? Marian Hossa.

The obvious argument is that Hossa should have received a match penalty, a game misconduct, thus disallowing the possibility of such an unfortunate end (if you’re a preds fan). The problem with this argument is that it never should have gotten to the point where Hossa could win the game. With a 3-2 lead at the end of the period and a 5 minute powerplay to close the game, the Nashville Predators needed only to control the puck for five minutes, which they failed to do. Moreover, they failed in the simple task of defending a lead with an extra player. In short, they deserved to lose, and they did. Whether it was Marian Hossa or Stan Mikita who scored the goal is irrelevant; if Nashville’s powerplay had been running at anything better than 0% in this series they would have won the game.Yet the sports media has spent the day talking about the refereeing, to the point where Damien Cox (a columnist for the Toronto Star) suggested we change the name of the game from hockey to ‘refereeing’.

Why is it so hard for us to accept loss? To blame ourselves? To be personally responsible, and more importantly, to move on after? It appears we have been groomed to frame the world around our own successes and needs as individuals, only to the point of failure, then we become rather communal. We once called the 1980’s ‘the ME decade’, when really, we live in the ME era, which has been a developing social norm since the end of World War II. And unfortunately that me-ness only extends into areas that are dishonorable. In other words, we can be as selfish as possible when considering profit, property, and our own convenience. But when being an individual suggests responsibility or inconvenience, we look to the collective to spread our blame around.

I don’t think anyone would argue that referees should be the deciding factor in any sports-game, but then again, they almost never are. Typically the ebb and flow of sports is dependable: the best team usually wins. Or in another case, the team with the best player(s) typically wins. Unfortunately this is one element that is not true for politics. Simple things like goals, and blocked shots determine the outcome of a hockey game. In the arena of the political it is ‘the people’, and legislative bodies filled with people, who, by way of human genius and human error, decide all our political outcomes. If only this one facet of politics could be as simple as sport. If only federal votes had instant replay, and our politicians and legislative bodies made a couple reactive calls based on our many jeers and boos. This is, of course, only my wishful thinking, and perhaps the motivating factor behind our love for sport. It can be a simple and just society, the likes of which we have never really known. That is why we are disgusted by rule breaking, steroid use, and bad officiating; because sport is, at least at times, our one remaining solace of honor, in a political world fraught with corruption and insurmountable greed. However, not even sport is safe anymore. The profit motive is everywhere, and just like in the business and political realms we fail to prosecute justly the rich offenders who happen to be athletes we admire. Big Ben has been charged with sexual assault twice in the past year and has not served a single day in prison, and he never will. HoHa, that’s an argument for a different day I suppose.

In the end, regardless of chance or officiating, last night three better teams won. Pittsburgh, the reigning Stanly Cup Champions, and home to the best player in the game, beat an Ottawa team that at times this year did not look playoff ready. Nashville, a 7th place team, lost to Chicago, a 2nd place team. And San Jose, the first seed, predictably beat the last seed, Colorado. The ebb and flow is dependable. The Hockey Gods appeased. The sacrifice? Always the weaker.

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