Is the NHL euro-francophobic?

point counterpoint

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On Tuesday, Sean Avery boldly spoke his mind about Phoenix Coyote Denis Gauthier’s open-ice hit on L.A King forward Jeremy Roenick in a pre-season game. The hit gave Roenick the 11th concussion of his career.

“I think it was a clean hit,” Avery said. “I think it was typical of most French guys in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back[ing] anything up.”

Thank you, Sean Avery—thank you for so eloquently addressing a problem that has marred our beloved sport ever since they let those strange-speaking, fancy-dressing, womanly guys from Quebec into our manly, proper-talking NHL.

Had Avery not spoken out, the NHL might have been ruined by vision-valuing French guys and their “clean hits.” No, we can’t let them get away with checking—not the French—not this time.

Thank you, Sean Avery—white, Anglo-Saxon hockey-loving males owe you big time.

The truth is that Avery’s comments do not highlight a larger issue of widespread negative perceptions of French and European players boiling under the surface of the NHL.

This is not 1972. Paul Henderson has scored—we can relax. The Cold War is over. The FLQ haven’t kidnapped anyone in years. The NHL is full of European superstars, and yes, even a few French-Canadian ones. In fact (gasp) European hockey has impacted North American hockey in many positive ways. Mario Lemieux is French-Canadian and old, but he can probably still kick Sean Avery’s ass.

The real problem that Avery’s recent comment highlights is that there are still a few stupid people in the NHL. It’s shocking really. Some think that not wearing a visor is a sign of old-school toughness. Some players believe that the visor is the mark of the gutless “other”-the French-Canadian and European cowards who are so stuck up about their ability to see.

Yes, these xenophobic players do exist. But this does not suggest some sort of explosive tension looming in the NHL. It just means that some players are idiots.

Perhaps Avery would have liked Gauthier to take care of Roenick in a more “Canadian” way—instead of a clean check, he could have considered losing the visor, sucker punching the loudmouth from behind, slamming his head into the ice, and breaking his neck. Now that’s the stuff hockey legends are made of. Just ask Todd Bertuzzi.

Please don’t give Avery’s bigotry more attention than it merits. He doesn’t represent a split NHL.

He is just a stupid man who desperately needs to be ignored.

--Dan Robson

counterpoint

The NHL has an ugly side it doesn’t like to acknowledge, and Sean Avery’s most recent comments have brought to light—once more—two issues that simmer below the surface of NHL hockey. The first is the pejorative view many NHLers seem to have of European and French-Canadian players. The second is the visor question.

Avery made his remarks after an exhibition game in which teammate Jeremy Roenick sustained his eleventh recorded concussion on a hit by Phoenix’s Denis Gauthier.

“I think it was a clean hit,” Avery told the media Tuesday. “I think it was typical of most French guys in a league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back[ing] anything up.”

An anti-visor culture has existed in the NHL for some time. It suggests to many that if they wear visors, they’re not tough. They’re not real men. That remarkably few players donned visors after Bryan Berard nearly lost an eye in 2000 is a testament to this fact.

But people like Avery—and Don Cherry—have been startlingly open about it. They’ve linked ethnic background to the visor question. They’ve brought nationality and culture into the equation.

Cherry sounded off about visors last year in a similar manner.

“Most of the guys wearing them are Europeans and French guys,” he said, causing a national stir.

This is not the view of a few bad apples. It’s something more systematic. Avery’s comment was not a slip of the tongue.

So what is it that causes hockey players to paint European and French players as less manly? What makes a Finnish player more sissy than a Canadian one? Granted, Europeans have made their mark in NHL the more often by finesse than by physical play. But does that mean they don’t have grit? That they don’t play the game as hard?

Many seem to think so. Most players have too much sense to say it to the media. Even Avery admitted that he is “an emotional guy who sometimes says things that shouldn’t be said.” But according to him, they shouldn’t be said. It doesn’t mean everyone’s not thinking them.

This is the NHL’s dirty little dividing line. It’s not overt, but viewers were temporarily given a glimpse of it when the NHL all-star game was divided into a North America vs. The World format. “French guys” slipped onto the rugged North American team, but they clearly haven’t escaped the stigma. Lots of people, Roenick included, have talked about a lack of respect between players today. Breaking the link between nationality and toughness—as represented by the visor—would be a good place to start restoring it.

--James Bradshaw

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