The Human Condition and Don Cherry

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Resentment is never a pretty sight, not in others and especially not when you find it in yourself. Its root, in my own bitter experience, is not so much hostility toward another, as deep personal pain at feeling unjustly overlooked and under-celebrated.

Before you move on furtively after looking up and realizing you're in the self-help section of the bookstore, let me say I'm talking about the Ottawa outbursts this week against Hockey Night in Canada. The mayor, journalist Roy MacGregor, shock jock Lowell Green and lots of fans have had it with the Maple Leaf bias they find in the HNIC crew. What I want to add to the voices already raised is that we're talking about the wounds of narcissism. It isn't about hockey and it isn't about bias, it's about the human condition. It is so about the human condition. Let me add other ways while we're in the vicinity.

Everybody is from somewhere. This is good to remember in the shadow of globalization and the coming Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. People tend to see things from their own point of view. Take the sports stories in yesterday's Toronto Star. "Raps suffer engine failure." "Koch struggles again as D-Rays beat the Jays." When your team is involved, it's always about you. Do you think the Detroit papers saw the Pistons' victory as a Raptors' failure? Uh uh. In the Detroit Free Press, it was "Stack pours it on late against Toronto" in a "come-from-behind win."

Now check this against coverage in the Star of games in which Toronto teams were not playing. "Sabres turn table on Cechmanek." "Wings fly out to quick start." "Stars shine bright, open with overtime win." In these cases, where the paper's ego is not involved, the stress is on the team that won, not the team that lost. It's the human condition.

But what about the "national" papers, or a national show, such as HNIC. Shouldn't they be different? Here's where everybody is from somewhere. You don't live in Canada, you live in a particular place, it's that old human condition again. Let me take a distant example. Around 1968, when I lived in Manhattan, I knew Stan Fischler, called in his heyday Mr. Hockey. He was the authority. He wrote books on all the stars and teams, sometimes under their names. He seemed to be from the land of hockey. He also strung for Toronto papers, covering American politics etc. During the gory Tet offensive in Vietnam, which created panic and incomprehension all over the U.S., I ran into him. "Stan," I pleaded, "you're an insider. Tell me what's going on!" He looked back at me, gaunt and perplexed. "I don't know," he moaned. "Nobody knows, but they're all asking the same question: What's wrong with the Rangers?"

There are many philosophical names for this - let's call it perspectivalism. It's Leibniz's monadology, Heidegger's thrownness. It's existential as hell, thoroughly modern and even more thoroughly postmodern. Does that mean - to skip straight to the late-night sessions in the dorm - that we're all hopelessly isolated inside our perspectives? Not at all. But you can't just deny that self-centredness. What you need to do is wrestle with it and try to get beyond it, which can be like beating your way out of a marshmallow. It isn't easy.

For some tips on how it is possible, let me turn to my old friend, John "not Ralston" Saul. My John Saul is a professor, author of many books about revolutionary politics in Africa, and an aficionado of crime novels, jazz and baseball - in none of which I've ever found him ill-informed. He's also a passionate sports fan, the kind of guy who sits beside you at the game muttering, "Throw strikes!" as if the pitcher is trying not to. "What you have to remember," said John one day, sharing what sounded like a hard-won discovery, "is that the other team is trying to win, too."

What an amazing insight this would be if we could only remember to apply it. It isn't just about our guys messing up and letting us down. Their guys are trying, too. What a burden it could lift from the battered spirit of the stressed-out fan, feeling the fates are punishing only us. It means as much to the other side, they were trying, too, maybe they were better, maybe they were luckier. It isn't just about me!

As for sportswriters and TV commentators, does this mean they should only cover games on which they have no perspective, so they can be "objective"? No, because in this way of thinking, everything human is perspectival. If you have no perspective, that doesn't make you objective, just disengaged, and you still have to strain to find the perspectives of those who are involved. Only God is objective, that is, above all perspectives. And He has no teams - except in the U.S., where He has many and they often play each other, a conundrum I'll leave to finer minds. For mere humans and sportswriters, the task is to be aware of your perspective, and try to gain some access to that of others as well.

That goes for other forms of journalism, too. In fact, it's pretty much the process of writing, as I understand it.

Originally published by The Globe and Mail. Rick Salutin's column appears every Friday. Posted on with permission.

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