Friday, November 1, 2013
The elephant in the room: racism and PK
Well-meaning people with honest agendas might reject racism as a factor in the debate over PK Subban's suitability as a potential Team Canada Olympic defenceman, but in the absence of a logical explanation, what else is there?
Subban was honored last season with the Norris Trophy as the best defenceman in the best hockey league in the world. That alone should make him a slam dunk for the Olympic team, but Subban's detractors are quick to trot our a parade of half-baked arguments against him, including but not limited to:
- the Norris Trophy is awarded on the basis of offensive statistics
- Subban is a defensive liability whose own NHL coach won't play him in crucial situations
- Canada is already loaded with right-handed defencemen who are better than Subban
- his personality makes him a potentially disruptive force in the dressing room
I've watched Subban on a regular basis since he joined the Canadiens, and while I've seen him make mistakes - like all defencemen do - for anyone who watches and knows the game to call him a defensive liability is intellectually dishonest. Coaches make mistakes, too, and one of Michel Therrien's shortcomings is his bullheadedness when it comes to using Rafael Diaz instead of Subban on the penalty kill or in the closing minutes of close games. The very idea of Diaz being defensively superior to Subban is the stuff of fairy tales, and Therrien needs to get off the pixie dust.
The left vs. right-handed defenceman argument is the lamest of them all. With all due respect, the notion of Dan Hamhuis, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Karl Alzner or Jay Bouwmeester making the Olympic team ahead of Subban solely on the basis of dextrality is beyond preposterous.
So where does that leave us? Ah, yes: Subban's personality - his flamboyance. When was the last time you heard a white athlete referred to as "flamboyant"? White athletes with Subban's outgoing personality are inspirational leaders and sparkplugs. Give a black man the same personality and he's a "potential problem in the room". Flamboyance is code for "uppity", and Subban should "know his place". Want another example? When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses his shit on the sidelines and screams at coaches and fellow players, he's hailed as a fierce competitor who's motivating his teammates with his unbending will to win. When Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant does the same thing, he's vilified as an immature prima donna and an embarrassment to the franchise. Same scenario, but the difference is Brady is white and Bryant is black.
None of this racism is necessarily overt. It's a product of centuries of social conditioning. It's only been two generations since the last vestiges of institutionalized racism against black people went by the wayside, and in the context of human history and social evolution, two generations is the blink of an eye. Much of the residual racism is implicit, latent or subconscious, but it's racism nonetheless.
Lastly, there's this: ample precedent exists for racism in professional sports. The examples are numerous and well documented. There is no precedent for a Norris Trophy winner being left off an elite hockey roster, or for such an omission even being a consideration.
Do the math.