I was exploring Columbus and what it had to offer in terms of rec league hockey today, and I came home to some disappointing news. Pavel Datsyuk, in an interview with Russian reporters, was asked about homophobic comments from a fellow Russian Olympic athlete. Whether he tried to avoid the question or not is unclear but he answered with a somewhat vague “I’m an orthodox and that says it all”. The Internet then proceeded to explode.
Much in a way that it exploded when Victor Hedman and Henrik Zetterberg spoke against the anti-gay law Russia has become so well known for recently, or when Henrik Lundqvist said literally nothing about it. This no doubt puts a blemish on how Datsyuk is viewed by Red Wings’ fans. It’s not going to be as easy to remember the mushroom-picking, YMCA dancer with something like this. Likewise even cool things like that goal against the Kings after Drew Doughty knocked him into the middle of next week seem disturbed.
The news of the interview was met with mixed reactions. Some have tried to extend a little understanding as to why he might think this way.
Others have gone out of their way to try to justify it.
Personally, I don’t think enough people are holding Datsyuk’s feet to the fire on this, and I’m really trying to understand why. In this modern day, it’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t think Russia is in the Stone Age with its anti-gay laws. There are those who chalk this up to Datsyuk’s upbringing and country of origin, and I’m really having a hard time seeing it from that point of view. Considering the situation, Datsyuk in a room full of Russian reporters, one might be able to understand why it was tough to dodge a question. A country that’s been getting slammed in the media for it’s laws, inside and outside the world of hockey could understandably go up to one of it’s own athletes and essentially ask ‘hey, you’re still cool right?” I don’t envy Datsyuk’s situation and frankly I think if we continue to blast athletes about politics they may decide not to share their beliefs ever again. When it comes to an issue like this, there’s something to be said for making enemies regardless of how you answer such a question.
There’s also something to be said for having the shoe on the other foot. If Russians were criticizing American laws because the winter Olympics were being held in America, I’d probably be pretty upset. I’d like to think that a human rights issue supersedes the do unto others argument. Is it appropriate to do so? Who’s to say? I’d like to think it does supersede this but all I really have to back that up is that I’m an American and naturally think I’m right. Anyone who thinks that has worked out well in the past need look no further that U.S. foreign policy for the last decade and a half or so.
I’m starting to get sick of the political ramblings of the Olympics for two reasons. One, I’m having to learn the right way to spell a lot of other players’ names and it’s confusing and I often end up triple checking my spelling even though I’m totally right. Two, sports are supposed to be fun. Talking about athletes and their antics and accomplishments is supposed to be fun. Talking about politics has never been fun for me. And now instead of looking forward to some weekly columns about the hockey world, one line quotes are being turned into political columns. That’s not fun for me. I don’t see how talking about this stuff week after week is fun for anyone, but if it is to you more power to you I suppose. I want to talk about potential trades and Mikhail Grabovski maybe signing with the Caps and who the Wings are about to get rid of and why. That’s fun. Things like this bring me no joy.
It’s always easy for us to point out what someone else should have said, but when you’re in the hot seat it’s rarely that easy. Maybe the athletes shouldn’t be to blame though. Maybe it’s our fault for taking this much of an interest in what athletes have to say about these issues in the first place. As I mentioned, I hate talking about politics and I usually couldn’t care less about what someone has to say about a cavalcade of social and economic issues the country faces today. But I’m just as guilty as anyone else is of fueling the fire of hockey politics. When the Tim Thomas white house drama went down I couldn’t read enough about it. And even today any time I see a headline featuring an NHL player and Russian anti-gay laws I HAVE to click and find out more. Maybe that kind of mentality is part of the problem. If no body really wanted to read about it, surely no one would write about it, right?
Maybe it’s our fault for putting athletes up on a pedestal the way we do. I honestly believe that if this were Justin Abdelkader or Drew Miller or some hypothetical Russian 4th liner (does Detroit really not have any?) I doubt this story makes much of a splash. But because Pavel Datsyuk is so good at hockey, we expect more. He scores lots of goals and we’ve seen lots of really charitable hockey players score a lot of goals. Maybe it’s a symptom of what we’ve seen before; maybe it’s a symptom of hero worship. But if Datsyuk doesn’t lead the Wings in goal scoring and carry them through the playoffs while simultaneously running a shelter for puppies, turning around the Motor City’s economy and single-handedly supporting a Habitat for Humanity chapter in his off time, we as fans feel let down.
It may not be reasonable to expect Datsyuk to alienate his home country to please his North American audience. At the same time, it may not be reasonable to excuse such dark age thinking in modern times, especially to someone who’s traveled the world and seen what life is like outside Russia.
At the end of the day, I think Datsyuk’s views on this subject are archaic and instead of writing about defending him we should be writing about how backwards his home country is, and by his own admission, his views are. I don’t buy pinning it on his religion for a second, but religion is a whole other can of worms. I do think, however there’s way more to this on a bigger picture. While I won’t be burning his effigy in the street, I don’t think we should give him a free pass just because he does really well for our team. If we find it appropriate to crucify someone for an opinion we disagree with, we should be willing to crucify that person regardless of the team he plays for, even if it’s our favorite. And I hate the month of August and there’s nothing to write about and god bless it, can it be training camp yet? Hopefully with time this fades from memory a bit and characterizations of Datsyuk move away from this and back towards when he did awesome stuff like this: