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Virtue on ice, or be still the beating heart of corporate sports media
Ivan Provorov didn't annex the Crimea, he took a pass on participating in Corporate Social Responsibility in accordance with his Russian Orthodox beliefs. The reaction has been (predictably) tiresome.
It was a cool, unappealing Thursday evening, the week they wanted to electrocute a Russian defenceman on a hockey team once styled as the Broad Street Bullies, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the hockey fans of Toronto.
On the train down to the arena there had been nary a whisper of the wrongthink that had surely rocked Bruce Arthur’s little world.
Stunned silence: one of nature’s great coping mechanisms. Surely the passengers were too traumatized to speak.
Then nothing about this latest act of Russian aggression while in line to pass through security…
That’s odd — and say, where are all the N95s, and why is no one voluntarily holding up the email receipt that confirms they’ve destroyed their immune system with a fifth booster?
Crickets in the beer line, as well (although, if we’re being honest, this writer is now more of a Tito’s and soda guy in the infancy of middle age).
Finally, in the safety of our seats, I was relieved to find that we were met with a land acknowledgment. No word about giving said land back, or improving conditions on reservations, or even making good on our clean drinking water promises that have fallen behind by decades, but this fact-finding mission was back on track. Can confirm: the corporations still care.
Then, at long last, the 5,000 or so who had found their seats early were offered a much-needed balm for our corporate-cultural wounds:
Everyone in the arena turned to the person next to them, and agreed to never hate again. Fathers and sons hugged and cried. The good people at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment lowered the Confederate Flags from the rafters, and we moved on, together, united, against a common foe. (Always the Red Menace.)
At the first intermission, while in line for my second vodka soda, and a 12-dollar slice of mediocre Pizza Pizza, I happened upon a Toronto Star columnist who had taken a turn on the fainting couch the day before. To my horror, he was smiling, and making small talk about our perpetually star-crossed Maple Leafs.
What about that common foe? All that ink spilled? The demands for retribution, deportation, a stay at the Hague?
How could someone who had been so upset, professionally, be enjoying a game of hockey so publicly?
It was almost as if this latest round of corporate media outrage had been divorced from reality and primarily for show.
Ivan Provorov still pet a burning dog.
In our current media climate of both fear and rage farming, one will never be granted conscientious objector status unless the optics — and the politics — fall along familiar ideological lines.
“I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say,” said Provorov, in a statement that we’re supposed to pretend isn’t good enough, because the kids who were picked last in gym class now hold narrative dominion over the lives of peak male performers, who they’ll gleefully build up or tear down based on marching orders — or sometimes, based solely on petty personal politics.
Among the worst reactions:
An emotionally dysregulated Breakfast Television host turned on the crocodile tears.
A ‘senior reporter’ for NHL Network lost his xenophobic mind, which prompted a CNN reporter to caution her media colleagues to “get a grip, people.”
Pierre Lebrun felt confident enough in his journalistic prowess that Provorov was merely “hiding behind religion.”
And TSN play-by-play announcer Gord Miller retreated to the tribal instincts of 2020-2022, placing consequences and societal castigation over freedom of expression and association.
As for the author, I tried my best to bring you a scoop, but alas, these talking heads, who not two months ago buried Hockey Canada over the past handling of sexual assault allegations (before going right back to cheering in the pressbox on Boxing Day when the World Junior Hockey Championship kicked off), have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining their pound of flesh.
As the blood pressure of these select few Canadian males settles, it’s important to give credit where it’s due to both the Flyers organization and the NHL who have yet to commit ritualistic Seppuku in accordance with the wishes of the chattering classes.
Flyers coach John Tortorella has stood by his defenceman — as a coach should do, even if a player has erred — saying “he’s being true to himself and to his religion.”
And the league’s comments, at least ‘til now, have been similarly level-headed:
That won’t be enough to satisfy the braying mob. As we know from the worst of that reflexive pandemic lockdown response, all it takes is a few upset corporate media and media-adjacent professionals to present an astroturfed consensus that “WE NEED TO DO MORE,” but perhaps it is indeed a sign that the green grass is growing through the snow that an offender such as Provorov wasn’t immediately handed a ten-game suspension, and dragged before a Kangaroo Court.
The ‘Rainbow-washing’ campaigns of the past used to go down so much smoother.
The simple act of using or adding rainbow imagery to advertising, apparel, a company’s logo — even landmarks — in order to indicate progressive support (and manipulate consumer credibility) required minimal effort, for the promise of spiritual (and stakeholder) absolution.
probably should have worn the ribbon. But then again, who the heck am I to say? He didn’t participate in allegations of group sexual assault; he didn’t take off his skate and try to stab somebody; he didn’t start a podcast with a Russian arms dealer with a nickname like ‘the merchant of death.’
Provorov took his own version of a knee — an act these same talking heads fawned over not two summers ago.
In opting for the exercise bike instead of a bag skate, Provorov kicked a hornet’s nest of white knights ready, willing, and able to mix it up in the corners; only, they aren’t fighting for essential rights or meaningful change, but the sanctity of ‘rainbow-washing’ and performative displays of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Whether it was the lack of interest from the 18,000 members of the human experiment who packed an arena to simply enjoy a hockey game, or the face of the smiling Toronto Star sports reporter in the beer line, it should be clear that this latest Current Thing doesn’t have a skate to stand on.
A learning experience? Sure. Could it be handled better next time? Absolutely. But a grown-ass man took a few moments to himself. The centre will hold. Before we’re beset upon by the next wave of breathless bromides, we should all consider doing the same.
Alexander Brown is a writer, editor, and politico living in Toronto, Canada. To receive new posts and support independent media, become a free or paid subscriber to Acceptable Views.