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What To Do When Your Hero Lets You Down

Welcome to a weekly column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports.  Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email,[email protected] or twitter, @kyle_bauer

 

Last week in Russia, while accepting the Kharlamov Trophy for being hockey’s best Russian player, Pavel Datsyuk was asked about  Henrik Zetterberg’s criticism of the country’s controversial, newly formed laws that prohibit public acts of homosexuality and homosexual “propaganda”. He gave a near ambiguous answer, one that was probably the best answer he could give in the tenuous and divisive climate between his home country and home town.

That’s his opinion. I’m an orthodox and that says it all

 

What else could Datsyuk say? If he outright says he supports the laws and condemnation of homosexuality, he’ll likely be subject to heavy (and deserved) criticism in Detroit–if not by the sheepish Detroit sports media, the national hockey and Canadian media and face direct conflict with his captain, long time line mate and friend, Zetterberg. If he says the Russian anti-gay law is cruel, oppressive and an affront to human rights, he’ll be disgraced in his home country, possibly face reprimand and have his family targeted by the government on the eve of the Winter Olympics that Russia is hosting with a medal-favorite hockey team he may be tabbed to captain.

The question and controversy is a no-win for Datsyuk and all high-profile Russian athletes, yet I couldn’t help but feel let down that Datsyuk even hinted toward support of the laws, especially since him saying “…that says it all” seemed to leave implication that his religious views fall lock-step with the Orthodox church’s official stance,

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction.”

I’ve heard quite a few excuses for Datsyuk, among them, He’s Russian. Homophobia is the culture in Russia, It’s hypocritical to be intolerant of someones religious views, Who cares, he’s just a hockey player. Worry about what he does on the ice. and someone probably muttered something about the First Amendment, though that’d be ironic because he probably doesn’t have the freedom to have a dissenting opinion on the law.

None of those are acceptable to me. I view homophobia as I view racism, to me they are equally deplorable. I suppose if you believe homosexuality is just some chosen lifestyle heathens enact simply to troll Jesus, you’d disagree with me that like race, homosexuality can’t be controlled or changed. That’s why I can’t accept “culture” or “religion” as an excuse for homophobia, nor can I be indifferent if I know it exists to an extent the player of interest aligns himself with the opinion that gays are “apocalyptic”, “dangerous” and “self-destructive”.

If you were a Philadelphia Eagles fan, would you still openly cheer for Riley Cooper following his wayward use of the N-word, or rather would you want to bother with that internal conflict?

Yes, athletes are people and sometimes they are awful people–disgusting people. You could be cheering for the next Aaron Hernandez and not even know it. They’re entitled to their stupid opinions, they’re entitled to live a selfish, lavish, even destructive lifestyle. I’d rather be in the dark and be blissfully ignorant that every athlete I cheer for isn’t perfect but at least they’re not so awful they judge and hate people they don’t (and do) know for something they have no control over. Especially in the sports world where male-heteronormativity is seemingly defined.

Now that I have an idea how Datsyuk views gays, I have that internal conflict and it happens to be with my favorite player. I have a child-like wonderment with Datsyuk. I’ve spent countless hours watching his highlight videos on You Tube. My eyes have gotten wide, my jaw has dropped and I’ve giddily jumped up and down watching his goals and assists. I’ve dissected the little parts of his game; the intricacies that set him apart from the other elite players. I’ve fervently defended him against lofty critics claiming he hasn’t achieved enough in the playoffs or that Lidstrom and Zetterberg have carried him through his prime. My childhood obsession with Steve Yzerman and Cecil Fielder has nothing on how I’ve viewed Datsyuk’s career–it’s admittedly unhealthy.

Most unhealthy of all, I had the delusion that Datsyuk was as infallible off the ice as he was on it. I would see his Facebook and Twitter updates, impressed that he was actually the one tweeting and tweeting interesting viewpoints and moments in his personal life; playing soccer with his kids in his yard, fishing, encouraging kids to get outside and be active, uploading fan artwork and pictures that he took with fans. It wasn’t the typical athlete social media feed, usually run by a publicist, agent or team used strictly to promote their charity work and give canned opinions about games, practices, teammates and colleagues. Datsyuk strikes me as a sincerely friendly, joyful person–someone who was relatable and approachable.

I’ve seen it in action before, I’ve had the pleasure of assisting him at my former job and what struck me aside from his genuine sense of humor–he was joking with me the entire time–was how he stopped and took a picture and shook hands with every single person who approached him. He couldn’t have been more gracious.

Now I wonder, what if one of those people who approached him and grabbed a photo was gay and how they felt after seeing Datsyuk’s ambiguous yet implicit statement on laws that imprison gay people simply for expressing who they are. I wonder how Datsyuk would react if he knew a gay person was approaching him for a photo.

Above my childish idealization of Datsyuk is that hockey is about to be at the center of what will be the most controversial Winter Olympics since Lake Placid in 1980. Though human rights issues were ultimately swept under the rug during China’s 2008 olympics, it seems like Russia enjoys the negative attention they’ve received for going socially backwards, realigning themselves with the Eastern world after 20 years of attempting to Westernize their ways. They’re digging in and they’re getting their athletes to do the media bidding with their global reach. Word coming in from the U.S. and Canadian Hockey camps is that many North American players are against Russia’s laws and we already know that Zetterberg is dissenting as a representative of Sweden hockey. While defeating Russia in hockey or any other Winter sport won’t change any laws, it’ll hurt the pride of a country that, in my opinion, is standing for something disgusting.

My only hope is that the comments of Datsyuk were made under immense political pressure or that his ambiguity actually equates to his ambivalence towards the laws or that he actually is opposed to the laws and harassment of homosexuals but was too scared to admit it. They may have also been misinterpreted or changed to fit the Russian media’s liking. In hindsight seemed to have misquoted Datsyuk on his intentions to play in the KHL in 2014, maybe this is a similar case–there are two different contexts the story is being reported in; as a response to Olympic pole-vaulter Yelana Isinbaeva anti-gay comments or as response to Zetterber’s pro-gay comments. I’m hoping he’ll be asked to clarify when he returns to Michigan for training camp but I doubt he’ll answer any further questions on the matter.

Will I still cheer when Datsyuk scores? Of course. Will I still feel the innocence of an 8-year-old when Datsyuk scores? No, but I guess it was time to grow up. It’s also time for Russia to grow up.

 

 

 Yasmine Hafiz- Russian Gay Marriage Apocalypse? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/22/russia-gay-marriage-apocalypse-russian-orthodox-church_n_3635310.html
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer

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