Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ça Suffit - Part Two

The enmeshment between the Canadiens and the city of Montreal runs deep. It has justified the rise in journalists that cover the daily saga that wraps itself around an 82 game schedule. It has bred the creation of 24 hour sports radio stations in both official languages. It has enabled late night televised debates over every single detail regarding every aspect of the team, drawing huge audiences in the process. The Montreal Canadiens are the team that never sleeps, revived over and over again, well after the game or the season has been played, by its fans that now enjoy so many outlets to channel their passion.
The team and its players are subjected to hot lamp scrutiny as soon as they agree to play in Montreal.

General manager Bob Gainey, who is no stranger to captaincy, winning or personal devastation, stands by oft criticized Saku Koivu with unquestionable faith and confidence.

Recently though the aim has shifted slightly towards the GM.

Many in the francophone media have argued that Gainey wasn’t fit for work after his own terrible loss. This very personal and very private issue was raised in the francophone newspapers, televised news bulletins, radio shows and during the team’s press conferences, all while the man still struggled to come to terms with his immense grief.

After having remained idle at the trading deadline, Gainey’s dedication to his work in view of his personal loss was questioned by the media who in the process sank to new depths as far as unprofessional and distasteful conduct is concerned. The man is in the throes of agonizing tragedy and the francophone media is calling for his head. Aren’t we all told to cope and gather our inner strength to try and move forward, to not abandon life, to resume work in the face of adversity?

Gainey should have been praised by the media for the courage it took to embrace a daily routine again, despite the reality that for the rest of his life that routine will include the grieving and the coping. Instead, he was criticized for attempting to revert to a sense of normalcy in the world that had again suddenly collapsed around him. Life has not been easy on Bob Gainey, you figure the media would intuitively sense that and publicly empathize with the man Russian coach Victor Tikhonov once labelled the most intelligent player in the world. Instead, in the spasm of those few weeks, the media in Quebec requested his head.

Some in the francophone media that follows this team move with a modus operandi and a purpose to unleash venom. It’s fully evidenced in the format that 110% has chosen to adopt in showcasing participants (who in fact are all journalists) barking at one another to get their points across. The overly simplistic result far too often falls somewhere between the incoherent and uninformative. When 110 succeeds, as a journalistic medium, it's because the decibels are low and the debators are afforded the luxury of finishing a sentence. This aggressive reporting, if one can call it that, was also in full force when journalists barged into Koivu’s hospital room, which only yielded tabloid fodder.

Last month, a francophone radio host asked his audience to call in and comment on whether or not there should be a limit of European players on every NHL team because of their alleged lack of dedication. This form of tribalism has no place in sports journalism, let alone in sports. Some in the French media continue to disseminate a message laced with subtle xenophobia. It’s not as outrageous as the kind Don Cherry advocates, but both are hatched out of the same rotten egg.
As a francophone Quebecois myself, I hold my media to higher standards. I'm asking for more. However, I only ask for sports. Leave the politics to the politicians. When comparing the French media to the Anglo press, one cannot help but notice a difference in style. This dichotomy runs along cultural lines drawn over time between Quebec and Canada. The English press, save for the irate Cherry, voice contained criticism. Confined within the borders of what seems appropriate. The frustration is there, it's palpable, but rarely overt, never overbearing. Is it boring? Maybe it is at times.

En français, as a testament to the wonderful warmth, passion and authenticity that the French Québécois are about, the media often takes things to an all too personal, begrudging level. And it gets ugly very quickly. It’s time for these members of the francophone media in Quebec to start treating the players with dignity and its fans with respect. Nobody deserves this as much as Koivu, Gainey and some of the most knowledgeable hockey fans in the world. They all deserve something cerebral to chew on. C’est assez, ça suffit.

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